UPDATE: Due to an overwhelming response from the HuffPost community, we've extended the length of this fundraiser, raising our goal to $30,000 (we were originally hoping to cover the latest round of the Stein's medical bills -- but, thanks to your generosity, we are able to help out with their other outstanding bills). Over 900 contributors have given more than $29,000 since Tuesday afternoon. This is an amazing accomplishment for the first week of the Impact section, and we want to keep the goodwill going.
Gary Stein, Monique's husband, says the family is absolutely overwhelmed by the response from the HuffPost community. "We'll do whatever we can to pay it forward," he says. "I hope and pray that this amazing response can be repeated." Watch the Stein's reaction to the events of the past week and what they want to do for other American families.
Thank you for your contributions -- and all your comments. We want to keep hearing from you.
On September 28, HuffPost featured the story of Monique Zimmerman-Stein, a mother who shares a rare genetic disorder with her children that causes blindness. Though Zimmerman and her family have health insurance, they are still saddled by astronomical debt from medical bills, which has forced this mother to save her daughters' sight by sacrificing her own.
The St. Petersburg Times, which originally published the story, also posted a video of Zimmerman speaking out about her family's health care predicament and her daughters' future.
Many readers, touched by the Stein family's story, have asked for a way to help them. HuffPost Impact got in touch with Gary Stein, Monique Zimmerman-Stein's husband, a Hillsborough County health department employee, who reported that the family's medical bills have continued to amass. A few months ago, Stein had a heart attack scare and his daughter had a playground accident that sent her to the emergency room. After tests and scans came out clear, both hospital visits were deemed medically unnecessary and the family was charged additional co-pays, which have since gone into collection.
A few weeks ago, Zimmerman-Stein had a minor stroke, known as a TIA, possibly caused by stress. She suffered no lasting side effects... other than the bill for the three-day hospital stay, which so far is $5,000 -- after insurance -- and mounting.
Despite this, Stein says "we find, every day, a reason to be brave because our system is difficult. I have a family to support and we make tough decisions every day on how to move forward and how to be normal." Stein says they know they aren't the only ones struggling to remain hopeful in the face of mounting health care debt.
"It just wrenches your gut to think that we live in such a great country but people can't get the medical care they need and that they have to make decisions on what bills to pay, what things to forgo."
The Steins are acutely aware that their story is just one of hundreds of thousands, and Zimmerman-Stein is adamant in her belief that free clinics need to be supported and that our representatives need to be held accountable. "I don't care who you are, everyone in this world gets sick," she said.
To help the Stein family, we've created a widget (see below) where readers can make a direct impact.
"If you can help us in a small way we'd greatly appreciate that," Stein said, but also suggested that, as an alternative, readers could give their time and donations to free medical fairs that cater to the uninsured and under-insured across the country.
"This is a way that you can make a greater difference, as well as writing your congressman and telling them what you feel. Although our health problems are personal and specific to our family, the financial situation that has ensued is not. It is happening to families all over the country and we felt that we had to speak out. Not just to tell our story, but to raise awareness over the current reforms our health care system needs."
It's easy to help both the Stein family and others like them.
You can give directly to the Stein family via their PayPal account by clicking on the widget below (the PayPal account should read "Just Dolphins"):
Or you can help the National Association of Free Clinics, so that others can receive the medical attention they need.
Through features like this, HuffPost Impact hopes to inspire and encourage people to get involved and make a real difference in people's lives. As Arianna says in her blog this morning: Learn. Act. Make An Impact.
Disclaimer: You have elected to directly give funds to this individual. For purposes of clarity, any funds that you give are not going to a 501(c)(3) qualified organization or other charitable organization but rather an individual person. Causecast Corporation and The Huffington Post make no representations or warranties as to the legitimacy of this person's story, need for assistance, or the amount of any medical or other bills, if any, owed by this individual. Causecast Corporation and The Huffington Post make no representations or warranties that the funds you give will be used by this individual for the intended purpose. Causecast Corporation and The Huffington Post in no way monitor or oversee the use by this individual of any funds you choose to give to them. Causecast Corporation and The Huffington Post make no representations or warranties as to any tax benefits or deductions available to you by reason of giving funds to this individual.