By Laura Brown
Triplicate staff writer
Life is precious. That is the lesson a local couple learned from their seven-month-old son who is scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery this Friday.
Martin and Utahna White first learned that their son, Davin, would require emergency medical assistance less than three weeks ago.
"I feel so helpless, there's nothing we can do but have the surgery," said Martin White.
The economic burden to the family is so tremendous that the Crescent Fire Protection District, where White has worked as a volunteer fire fighter for a year and a half, has set up a bank account to receive donations.
"It's just an outrageous expense," said Michelle Sherrick, who thought of the idea. Her husband works with White.
Besides working as a firefighter, White has been working as a carpenter ¬ó 10 hours a day, six days a week ¬ó just to "get by," as he puts it. His wife is on disability as she cares for her son and tries to recover from postpartum blues. She says she is anxious to return to her job as a Headstart preschool teacher when things are "back to normal."
Davin was born five weeks prematurely, but has shown all signs of good health since his birth, say his parents. Doctors first noticed his heart murmur when he was nine days old but were hopeful that it would form normally over time, said Martin White.
Three weeks ago, after seeing a visiting specialist from San Francisco, it was discovered that his condition had not improved and that surgery would be necessary to seal a hole between the upper chambers of his heart.
The news left the family scrambling for help. With no money in savings and little time to plan the trip south, they were desperate, Martin White said. Living from paycheck to paycheck, there was no extra cash for lodging, gas, food, or rent and other expenses that would have to be put on hold because of a smaller paycheck.
"We live paycheck to paycheck; that's why this last day of work is so important to me," he said.
When Sherrick heard about the White's emergency, she came up with a plan to donate money collected in a firefighters fund. Typically, this money comes from monthly dues paid by firefighters and is used to purchase food and beverages and other supplies for the department to use while on duty.
The board of 30 members gave $500 to pay for the family's rent expenses. More money is continually being raised, and Sherrick and others are organizing several meals for when the family returns home from its one-week stay in the Bay Area.
"The firefighter's family is just as important as the individual's family to members. In reality, we look at Martin's spontaneous new crisis, and we're looking to help the cause," said Chief John McFarland of the Crescent Fire Protection District.
Another $500 has come from other agencies. That will help to cover the costs of staying in San Francisco for a week, but with the average cost of a motel room near the hospital running $200, their budget is still expected to be cut close.
"Everything is still so uncertain," White said.
The surgery is called "routine" by doctors, and Davin's parents have been told that his chances for survival are as high as 99 percent. If the family were to decide to forego surgery, the boy would probably show signs of fatigue as a toddler and could ultimately die, he said.
The doctors' optimism for surgery has not quelled the Whites' fears.
"I had to tell them, it's not routine to me. It just isn't," said Martin White.
"I just want to get on with a regular life with my boy and family," said Utahna White.
People wishing to contribute can do so at Chetco Federal Credit Union in the name of Martin and Davin White.