By Dixie Pettit
One of Ramona’s littlest residents is beginning to gain international attention through the kindness of strangers.
Local news stations began reporting on 16-month old Liam Houck and his desperate need of a kidney transplant. Internet searches on Liam reveal his story has spread as far as Britain as people forward the cry for help.
Ramona residents have banded together in a race against time to help this local family raise funds and ease the growing financial burden.
Houck is the son of U.S. Marine Capt. Reid Houck, a pilot, and Vanessa Houck, a former Air Force pilot who is now at home caring full-time for Liam.
Rapidly declining kidney function has placed Liam on the verge of complete renal failure while waiting for a transplant, which is scheduled for December, though a kidney source has not yet been determined.
The family through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) used a booth at the Ramona Country Fair last weekend to raise awareness of Liam’s plight and to collect donations for the mounting expenses needed to keep the tyke as healthy as possible while awaiting a transplant.
Robert and Victoria Bradley of Ramona Family Naturals have also been helping to collect donations.
The original goal to help meet expenses was set at $50,000 by COTA but that amount has since been raised to $125,000 to meet the family’s projected needs.
In addition to the booth at the fair, collection jars are planted throughout town and other fundraising events are being planned,
“We’re the little town that could,” said Ramona resident Suzanne Reese, the local COTA organizer.
The COTA website showed on Monday that $46,451 had been raised so far toward the $125,000 goal. Bradley said $1,897 was raised during the fair, but it is unclear whether this amount is part of the running total.
Specialists diagnosed Liam with Eagle-Barrett’s Syndrome, also known as Prune Belly Syndrome (PBS), a rare medical condition affecting about 1 in 40,000 births.
According to the Houcks, at birth Liam’s kidneys were functioning around 30 percent. Now they are at only 5 percent.
Fighting the odds and on dialysis since 6 months old, Liam has spent more than half of his life in a hospital.
To keep his weight up, Liam is only on 100 percent mother’s milk. Every three hours Liam is fed through a tube that leads directly to his stomach through the abdominal wall.
According to Reid Houck, the boy can only take in about five ounces of milk at each feeding over the course of an hour. He said the toddler’s kidneys are unable to process and digest the milk any faster.
“He just throws up. We have tried everything,” explained Vanessa. “The mother’s milk has been the only thing he has been able to keep down and gain weight on.”
“The military has been excellent in taking care of my family,” said Liam’s father. “By stationing us here in San Diego, it has found us the best care for our son. The Marine Corps has bent over backwards to take care of my family and our son. I am very appreciative for everything they have done.”
Ramona Family Naturals, 642 Main St., has a bake sale set for Aug. 13, starting at 8:30 a.m., to raise more funds. Robert Bradley said that more events are planned but at the moment no “hard dates” have been set.
“Meetings for fundraising ideas are held at the store as well,” he said. “We are trying to organize a homerun derby, carwash, and a golf tournament – right now we are brainstorming and trying to collect donations as well as prizes of goods and services to provide at the events we are planning.”
“We don’t have to fly across the globe to find families and children in need of help,” said Reese. “They are in our own communities, right in front of us.”
In addition to the collection jars in many businesses in Ramona, those wishing to help may visit cotaforliamh.com/, participate in upcoming fundraisers, or contact Reese at 858.449.4844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.