Alums receive Christmas miracle from Internet angels

spring 2012 gonzalez

Santa took on an unexpected form this Christmas for a Jacksonville family in need of some holiday cheer.

 

Instead of a merrily pudgy fellow in a red-and-white suit, the Gonzalez family’s personal Santa is a cute little alien with orange circles for eyes and a crooked antenna popping out of his head.

 

He’s the Reddit.com alien, the mascot for the social news aggregation website that boasts an incredibly devoted online community.

 

He’s also a new symbol of hope for 3-year-old Lucas Gonzalez and his family after an unprecedented outpouring of support from Internet Good Samaritans across the globe.

 

“Words can’t describe what these people did for my family,” said Luis Gonzalez, Lucas’ father. “This is definitely a Christmas we won’t forget.”

 

Keeping Lucas safe       

 

Lucas was born with a rare genetic disorder that makes his immune system far more porous than that of a normal toddler. His body is susceptible to infections, and his parents have to keep his world as sterile as possible to ward off germs. His brother, 1-year-old Liam, doesn’t share the same condition.

 

Lucas’ parents, Beth and Luis, have been together since high school and through college at the University of North Florida. Beth received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2000 and a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2006. She works for Duval County Public Schools. Luis graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in history and works as a digital media specialist with the Florida Times-Union.

 

They said it’s been an ongoing struggle keeping Lucas safe and healthy while still allowing him to experience life like any normal 3-year-old.

 

“We can’t let him be around a lot of kids at once,” Beth said. “We have to be very careful what we expose him to. It’s tough because we want to give him the best life we can and not have to shield him from everything.”

 

The key to Lucas’ future is a bone marrow transplant from the specialists at Duke University in North Carolina. But it comes with a hefty price tag.

 

His parents estimated they would need about $50,000 for the procedure — enough to cover the transplant and provide for the family while they’re out of state. His parents left their jobs in February and expect to spend about six months in North Carolina as Lucas undergoes and recuperates from the procedure.

 

Reddit to the rescue 

  

They scheduled a few local fundraisers and received a number of donations from friends and family, but the $50,000 mark seemed like a pipe dream.

 

That’s when the Gonzalez family turned to the Internet.

 

They posted a series of pictures in late November to Reddit.com with Lucas holding cue cards elaborating on his condition. The images struck a chord, and Lucas’ story was promoted to the top slot of Reddit, garnering thousands of page views from Internet users nationwide.

 

“We kind of figured, ‘why not?’” Luis said. “There’s no harm in trying, even though Lucas made it seem like we were doing something terrible to him by making him sit still and hold those cards. Once it was posted, though, it started taking off.”

 

It was only a few hours before the donation box started trending upward. It went from $1,000 to $15,000 in only a few hours. By hour 12, they were at $32,000.

 

They eventually ended up with close to $60,000, a sum they’re still trying to comprehend.

 

“It’s hard to even process,” Beth said. “We were thinking we were going to take on a lot of debt to make this happen. But, now, all we’re going to have to worry about is making Lucas better. It’s the best gift any of us have ever received.”

 

Although Lucas doesn’t fully understand the gravity of those donations, he said he was happy about receiving the support of Reddit’s philanthropic users, or “computer people,” as he called them.

 

“They’re nice,” he said, looking up briefly from his toy train set to field a couple questions.

 

Luis repaid Reddit’s kindness by getting the site’s alien logo tattooed on his right arm. There’s just one slight alteration — a bold red heart emblazoned on the alien’s chest.

 

“I wish I could personally thank each and every person who helped my family,” he said. “They did more for us than we could have ever hoped for. They’re a part of our family now.”