One night, a few weeks after closing on our Kirkland house, I zipped over to the house to check on something. At the time, I was still living in an apartment in Redmond and Rich was in Mount Vernon. Because I was running out of food and there was a Safeway a few minutes from our Kirkland house, I decided to zip in there rather than shop in Redmond.
It was a week or two before Halloween and as I rushed into the store, my eyes caught site of a man I thought was wearing a mask. I was moments from congratulating him on the effectiveness of his Halloween guise when I realized that his face was badly deformed. I hoped that he hadn’t seen my facial expression that must have revealed my horror.
He was a Safeway employee. The left side of his face was enlarged with tumors that sagged, covering up one of his eyes, half of his mouth and nose, and deforming his ear. Smaller tumors covered other parts of his face and neck.
My first thought was perhaps he came from other country where he hadn’t received proper medical care. When I got back to my apartment, I spent the next few hours trying to research his facial deformities, deciding that it was perhaps Proteus Syndrome, which causes skin overgrowth, atypical bone development and facial tumor. Only a few case have been conformed worldwide, including Joseph Merrick who became known as the "Elephant Man.
A month or so passed before I saw him again. Once again, I returned to my computer to figure out whether a cure was available. Rich also saw him and was equally distressed.
Then a few weeks ago, Rich came home from the store to tell me that money was being raised to enable him to have surgery. His name is James O’Neal and since May, the community has raised over $100,000 for his medical treatment!!!!
James is no doubt an exceptional person with more goodness than ten people. His story was publicized on local news channels to help the fundraising efforts. Watching the videos on his fundraising site – Friends of James O’Neal Fundraising – you can see the joy in his eyes when he talks with others. Kids calls him the "good pirate."
Hopefully his surgery(s) will be successful. He was born with neurofibromatosis, which is a genetic disorder that cause tumors to grow around the nerves. Only 100,000 Americans have the disorder.