Blake Britton has cancer. He and his wife, Vicki, are expecting their first child in May.
Even with good health insurance, there’s no way they could afford the costs of cancer treatment and childbirth. Because of Blake’s illness and Vicki’s pregnancy, both had to stop working. Those are significant life challenges for any one person; for a young couple just starting out they could seem insurmountable.
Yet Blake, 35, of Portland, Ore., told Yahoo News, “The whole thing has made us change our minds about how positive and loving people can be. ... We’re trying to treat this not as a tragedy but as an opportunity.”
In February, family friends Ryan Warren Smith and Johanna Lovett decided they needed to take action to help Blake and Vicki. They had previously used sites such as Kickstarter to raise funds for work projects but didn’t know if the same approach would work for something like helping friends pay their medical bills. So they launched an online fundraiser to help.
“Our bills are a lot larger than anything we would be able to manage,” Vicki said. “It’s incredible to think how people are able to do it without support.”
The crisis began when Blake first experienced what he thought were nothing more than painful headaches. After a trip to the doctor, he was told he was suffering from excessive “stress.” But when his symptoms worsened, it was discovered he was bleeding from the frontal lobe of his brain. Doctors removed a baseball-sized, malignant tumor.
“There was no way to quantify what it was going to take to get them through it financially,” Lovett said. “We wanted to make a dent.”
Still, Blake wasn’t necessarily eager to have his health situation broadcast to the world. “We were naturally a little bit hesitant,” he said. “At the same time, we were not in a position to deny the love that we were presented. Sometimes your friends know you better than you know yourself.”
More than $50,000 in donations have come in, from nearly 500 people — two-thirds of the way to their target, $75,000, though there’s no way to know exactly how steep their medical expenses will be.
“They’ve been very humbled and excited for the help,” Smith said. “The first few days they were staying at my house, and we were all in awe as the donations started coming in.”
“It just sort of took off, and we were kind of shielded from a lot of it,” Vicki added. “The most amazing gift of all of this has been the time to heal that is afforded.”
Most crowd funding sites take a cut of 6 to 10 percent of the proceeds for themselves. After some research, Smith and Lovett found a site called YouCaring.com that forgoes fees for charitable causes.
The site was founded in 2012 after a pair of entrepreneurs met in ministry school in Redding, Calif. They were looking for a way to coordinate fundraising efforts for mission trips and tuition. Rather than chasing profits, they decided to forgo taking funds from causes launched on the site, instead relying on separate, voluntary donations from individuals.
“After the site started, people asked if they could use our model for memorials and things like that,” YouCaring’s Michael Blasco told Yahoo News. “For somebody who is in need, that’s a big deal. We ended up expanding into these areas like medical and personal challenges where there is a lot of need.”
In less than two years, donors on the site have raised more than $102 million for various crowd-funding projects, saving an estimated $5 million in fees for donors.
Support for Blake and Vicki has come from offline sources as well. On March 28, Smith and Lovett helped organize an art show fundraiser for the couple in downtown Portland.
The advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy stepped in to help sponsor the event. Blake has done work for the firm as a freelance contributor.
“It’s nothing we could have ever expected,” Blake said.
For now, Blake and Vicki continue to focus on his treatment and getting ready for the birth of their child.
“It’s been going pretty well, actually,” Blake said. “We’re trying to be as aggressive as possible.”
As for the baby, “we know it’s going to be a boy,” Blake said. “But we haven’t settled on a name quite yet.”
Follow Eric Pfeiffer on Twitter (@ericpfeiffer).