The two stayed in contact, through Reed's travels as a missionary in Rwanda and Mozambique, and Fox's graduation in 2011. Reed's journey led her to Africa, where she taught women how to bake as a trade and source of income for their families. Fox watched as her friend blossomed into someone who would "follow a mission to the ends of the earth." Contact might have been spotty as Reed trekked the world, but each time the two picked up as though no time had passed.
When Reed received an Oct. 2013 diagnosis of a rare brain condition that would require a craniotomy, Fox was devastated. Reed needed the surgery as soon as possible—and the money to pay for it. As a full-time missionary, Reed does not have health insurance, and would have to pay for the procedure entirely out of pocket. The surgery was scheduled for Nov. 19, and Reed would have to pay half the discounted amount of $97,000 upfront.
Fox got to work. And then, so did the village of Lemont.
What began as a simple idea of donating her tips accrued at Front Street Cantina, sparked a social media whirlwind of "shares," likes, and comments. An "Operation Laura" GoFundMe page has been shared thousands of times. Fox watches in awe as donations pour in from people who have never even met her friend (who lives in Pismo Beach, California by the way) and who suffers from something called trigeminal neuralgia. The condition affects 150,000 people annually.
Former high school classmates. Coworkers. Friends of friends. Friends of family. All have chipped in, to a combined total (in the first few days) of at least $9,000 (at which point Fox lost count). Four days in, the effort had raised $15,000 for the girl from Noccalula Falls, Alabama.
"I'm speechless," Fox said of witnessing the generosity. "Nothing short of incredible."
Reed's condition is caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve as it exits the brain stem. This compression causes the wearing away or damage to the protective coating around the nerve (the myelin sheath), and causes intense pain. To cure the condition, doctors will drill a hole behind her ear, exposing her brain, and find the nerve and separate it from the blood vessel. If she can't pay for the Nov. 19 surgery, she'll have to wait until the spring.
Lemont Steps Up for a StrangerAs the donations flowed in to the GoFundMe page, familiar names filled the feed. The Michaelsen family. Jake Flannigan. Jake Ninehouse. Sarah Forzely. Ashley Eckert. Tori Richards and Cori McWerther. Steve Grand. So many others who know Fox, either in passing or in-depth. Fox has distributed fliers (donated by the local OfficeMax) around town, from Stonehouse Pub, to The Vault and 3 Corners.
Of the 246 donors so far, dozens and dozens are from Lemont, Fox wrote to Patch. They're helping just because they know Fox—and just because they can.
Donor Tori Richards politely brushed off Fox's gratitude for her $50 donation.
"I would only hope a complete stranger would do the same for me," Richards wrote to Fox.
A stranger from Colorado who knew Reed through a friend offered up her frequent-flier miles to transport Reed anywhere she needed to go for the surgery. When Reed learned she could have the operation as nearby as Los Angeles, the woman willingly handed the miles over to Fox, who will fly to California (economy plus) Monday to be with her friend during the surgery.
The majority of local donations have come from people in the 19 to 28-year-old age range, Fox said.
"Everyone deserves a chance to keep on living," wrote one Facebook friend who shared the page. "I challenge everyone to give $1. ... Make a reason and give a dollar. Give a dollar because I made you laugh last time I saw you, give a buck because I gave you some fantasy football advice, give a buck because I bought you a drink at the bar once. I don't care why, just give $1."
The social media promotional push has been inspiring, Fox said.
"It's a testament that Facebook can be used for good."
How You Can HelpTo date, the GoFundMe campaign has raised $41,435 of the $47,500 needed. The amount is tracked by a live tally in the widget box above. They were required to raise the funds by Friday, 5 p.m. PST.
Whether or not more people donate, Fox has been touched by the local support for her beloved friend and will never forget the way Lemont has stepped up. During a phone call with Reed Thursday, Fox spoke soothingly of bottomless faith and calming effect of prayer.
"Just keep on praying," she told Reed.
Donations are still being accepted on the GoFundMe page. Once she's well, Reed intends on becoming an educator on the topic of TN. She hopes to serve as "the face" of the little-known condition. But until then, she's trying to stay positive.
"She's discouraged," Fox said of her friend. "And I'm exhausted."
But her gratitude to Lemont is profound.
"People have been doing incredible things to help and I want to share their stories with you and the rest of town," she wrote to Patch.
"People in Lemont are so caring and generous that they see a neighbor or old high school classmate in need, and they give. A LOT."
FOLLOW LAURA'S STORY