TAMPA — Twice in two days, Enock Mezilas nearly secured a lung transplant, only to learn at the last minute that the donor wasn't a good match. But the 20-year-old whose story has inspired an outpouring of community support isn't discouraged.
He's learned that amazing things can happen quickly.
One week ago, he wasn't even on the waiting list for a lung transplant, his only hope for leaving Tampa General Hospital alive. His parents didn't have the $10,000 required to start paying for his care after the surgery.
Now, his eyes tear up as he searches for words to thank the hundreds of people who gave whatever they could after reading his story in the St. Petersburg Times, tbt* and on tampabay.com, the newspaper's website.
Lawyers, students, doctors, retirees — those moved to help save his life came from all walks of life. They gave in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $5, so far raising an astounding $93,718 for transplant-related expenses.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Mezilas said, laboring to speak. "It truly touched my heart — my and my family's hearts — because we really couldn't afford it. It shows you how much people out there really care."
He covered his eyes to hide his emotion, while his mother sitting nearby cried openly.
"Without the support, my son would be dead," Ilna Pierre said, beaming through her tears. "Thank you everyone. Thank you so much."
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What is it about Enock Mezilas' case that has struck a chord in so many?
For David Jolly, an Indian Shores consultant, it was the relatively small amount of money that stood between a young man and lifesaving surgery.
"It was one of those moments where you ask, 'How did the system break down in this situation?' " said Jolly, who declined to say how much he and his wife, Carrie, donated.
"Everybody can relate to two parents having to work hard to provide for their family, a young man having to work hard to graduate from high school," he added.
For Mia Michelle Boykin, an aspiring medical student in Tampa, it was his desire to become a pharmacist, and how his suffering lingered in her mind.
"I just couldn't imagine him losing his life because of 10 grand," said Boykin, who blasted out his story from her Facebook and Twitter accounts and wrote her own check for $300. "And it makes me so happy that other people feel that way."
For Dr. David Mokotoff, a St. Petersburg cardiologist, it was the sad irony that his working parents' insurance would cover the transplant surgery, but they couldn't afford the copay on the pricey medications he'll have to take for the rest of his life.
And then there were his immigration troubles. His parents, originally from Haiti, immigrated legally from the Bahamas when he was 9. The Fort Lauderdale couple — he works in maintenance, she is a home health aide — didn't realize at the time that they should get a green card for their son, too. He now has one, but not for long enough to qualify for public health benefits.
"The Mezilas family sounded like a very hard working couple, whose son got caught in an immigration loophole due to the complexity of our laws," said Mokotoff, the St. Petersburg physician, who contributed $1,000. "I determined there was no way I could not donate to his cause."
A few themes came up repeatedly in phone calls from donors to the fundraising organization, the National Transplant Assistance Fund, www.NTAFund.org. His youth. His years of being misdiagnosed, leading to permanent lung damage. His green card issues. His hardworking parents.
"Different parts of the story hit people different ways," said Tampa General spokesman John Dunn.
"Ten thousand dollars," he added. "That seemed achievable for people."
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Although Tampa General set a $10,000 figure to cover the initial months after his transplant, his doctor says there's no way of knowing how high his medical costs will climb over the years.
His family's copay for the anti-rejection drugs could run $300 to $600 per month. And Mezilas and his mother will have to live in Tampa for three months following his surgery, then return once a month for a year.
The money raised will help to pay for everything from medications to expenses from when they relocate to be near Tampa General. It will be kept in a fund, generally to be paid directly to the service providers. The organization administering it closely monitors requests for funding, which must be accompanied by appropriate documentation.
While his finances are now far more secure, he still needs the gift that money can't buy — a compatible organ donor.
Mezilas doesn't have any special issues that would make his match especially difficult, said Dr. Tarik Haddad, his transplant physician at Tampa General.
The first set of donor lungs that fell through had cysts making it unsuitable. The second set was unusable because of how it had been handled.
"I can be patient," Mezilas said. "It's all in God's hands. I know I'm going to get it soon."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.