SPRING HILL — When Ethan Raske was born four years ago, his parents decided to preserve his umbilical cord. Now, that gesture could save his life.
"When we saved that, we didn't know he had issues or it would be of use,'' said Kathy Raske. "We were just led to do it. We thought it was (a message) from God."
Today, Ethan is battling a host of major medical issues, including severely diminished eyesight, cerebral palsy, neurological damage, chronic lung disease, an immune deficiency, seizures and a feeding disorder.
His parents, Kathy and Darren Raske of New Port Richey, hope that a treatment using stem cells drawn from the boy's cord blood could improve his quality of life. But so far, none of the medical facilities they have contacted here and abroad have been willing to try the experimental treatment, called stem cell induction.
Mrs. Raske said she and husband understand the situation. Every facility has its own grant restrictions and protocols, she said, and one or another of Ethan's problems has precluded him from inclusion in their treatment programs. Although the procedure is experimental, "they can do it on a compassionate care basis," she said.
Several members of the local medical community, however, have stepped forward to try to help the family.
The Stolte Eye Center, 1115 County Line Road, will host a wine and cheese fundraiser Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the clinic. There is no admission charge, but Dr. Keith Stolte and his staff are hoping that donations and raffle chances will raise as much as $10,000.
Ethan was referred to the center by the Little Lighthouse of Pasco County, the children's division of Lighthouse for the Blind. The boy is nearly blind with ocular retina deficiency, a condition in which he was born with underdeveloped eye function.
"The doctor felt compassion for him," said the center's director of marketing, Valerie Ciaccio. In the past year, Stolte has given a percentage of his income from certain procedures he performs, now totaling some $1,000, to help offset some of Ethan's medical bills.
The center's staff also has fallen in love with Ethan, said Ciaccio. Her 12-year-old son, Stephen, organized a car wash in his family's driveway to raise money for the Raske family. His mom served free coffee and donuts to all comers.
And Ciaccio tapped contacts for help.
Dr. Fawsi Soliman of Gulf Coast Surgery is paying for the entertainment at the fundraiser. A professional Santa and Mrs. Claus are donating their appearances. Bay Dermatology in Spring Hill has donated $150 worth of skin care products for the raffle basket. Liz Guitierrez of Timber Pines is donating a $50 certificate for a professional massage.
Ethan receives Medicaid benefits, but he needs more medical services and prescriptions than the aid provides.
Ethan has received blood transfusions and other care from All Children's Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital in the Tampa Bay area, and the family has also consulted with Duke University's research hospital and the Medical College of Georgia. The Raskes also have made inquiries to medical facilities in China and the Dominican Republic, but no one has been willing to take his case.
"He is a ticking time bomb,'' Mrs. Raske said of her son. "If he gets something serious, we could lose him. His cord blood is safe, and it could help him, his immune system, his brain. We just don't know. We just want our son to have a better quality of life. At this point, we're looking for a doctor who will do it."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]