Church starts fund for man who needs liver transplant


January 24, 2001|By Donna Koros Stramella | Donna Koros Stramella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JOHN HAFER JR. remembers when his life changed. An avid Ravens fan, he was getting ready to attend the game on New Year's Eve when he began spitting up blood. Instead of spending the day at the stadium watching football, he underwent tests at a hospital.

The next day, he began the new year with the worst news of his life. The 42-year-old was diagnosed with hereditary hemochromatosis (HC).

The disorder causes a person to absorb and retain too much iron from food and other sources.

In Hafer's case, late detection of the disease allowed iron levels to reach toxic proportions, damaging about 90 percent of his liver and necessitating an organ transplant for survival.

A self-employed bricklayer, he does not carry medical insurance. The cost of the liver transplant could run $100,000 to $300,000.

Hafer, a lifelong county resident, lives in Glen Burnie with his wife, Dawn. They have four children, ages 7 to 18.

Hafer's mother, Sue Berger, is visiting from Alabama to help the family. "We're just trying to get things together," she said. "By the grace of God, we're getting through."

Berger said her son received a diagnosis of diabetes around Easter of last year. Although he had numerous blood tests while trying to control the diabetes, HC would not have been detected.

"You have to be tested for this one specific disease," Berger said. "You have no symptoms."

Hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders, estimated to affect more than 1.5 million Americans.

It can cause liver disease, heart disease and diabetes. If diagnosed early, it is treatable.

Ferndale United Methodist Church, which Hafer attends, set up an account recently to help pay for a transplant and made an initial deposit of more than $1,000.

The congregation is hoping other members of the community will help the family with monetary donations.

Members of the church also are planning a pizza fund-raiser.

Meanwhile, Hafer, an active outdoorsman who enjoys hunting in the winter and fishing for bass in summer, can only wait.

"They sent him home from the hospital because there was nothing they could do until he has a transplant," Berger said.

Checks to the John Hafer Liver Fund may be sent to any Bank of Glen Burnie branch.

Information on the church's pizza fund-raiser: 410-761-2880.

Marley's partner

The Coast Guard has been a good neighbor to Marley Elementary School.

For four years, members have sponsored field trips, helped in the computer laboratory, mentored and tutored pupils, assisted on field day and run a chess club for the children.

Donna Redmond, Marley reading specialist, said the Coast Guard has been assisting the school through the Partners in Education program. Volunteers work in every grade, performing a variety of services.

"They've assisted with our drown-proofing sessions, our Marley Creek project and for the physical education program, Superfit," Redmond said. "They give presentations to the students about different areas of the Coast Guard."

The presentations by Coast Guard members have exposed pupils to a wide range of subjects, from lighthouses to search-and-rescue missions, she said.

"They've been positive role models for the students," Redmond said. "They see someone in uniform as their friend. Even though they're not the police, they realize they are here to help them."

A week ago, some Marley Elementary pupils had a chance to visit their friends.

Fifteen children in grades three through five were selected to sing at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration held at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard yard.

Directed by music teacher Ramona Williams, the children performed four songs, including "The Dreamer" and "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."

About 400 people attended the event.

"The students really respect the Coast Guard," Redmond said. "I've heard both girls and boys mention the Coast Guard as a possible career. It gives them a goal that they didn't think of before."

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