'The Little Town That Could'
Liam "Baby Liam" Houck/Sentinel photo
Ramona – YOU DID IT!
The Sentinel first brought the plight of Ramona toddler Liam Houck to the spotlight on Aug. 4, and Liam’s desperate need for a kidney transplant rallied the community.
As the Houck family was struggling to raise money for the medical needs of their son, fundraisers popped up all over town. From cookies to concerts and from lunches to lemonade stands, the pennies and dollars added up, and a sizable six-figure sum has been collected since.
In just four months, Ramona became “the little town that could,” said Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) community coordinator Suzanne Reese, a Ramona resident.
“We exceeded our goal (and raised more than $125,000) within four months,” said Reese. “This is an amazing community. They are what made it easy.”
District 36 State Sen. Joel Anderson on Saturday held an event in Ramona Library to thank everyone who contributed to the successful fundraising campiagn.
“Due to the tireless efforts of Ramona citizens, baby Liam will get a new kidney,” said Anderson, who presented numerous certificates of appreciation at the event.
Reese cited examples of generosity all over town.
“Victoria (Bradley of Ramona Family Naturals) had a man walk into one of the many bake sales they had and hand her a hundred dollars. She said, ‘Here, have a cookie,’ but he just wanted to drop off the money for Liam,” said Reese, adding it was like that all over town.
People paid for tickets to a benefit concert held in Ramona MainStage, but they would leave the tickets so the seats could be sold again. Money came in from all over the country and overseas as people called friends and family to spread the word. In a tight economy, the dollars kept flowing.
Liam 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 for Liam full-time. Liam, who has “prune belly syndrome,” has been fighting the odds since birth. Renal failure is one characteristic of the rare condition.
“When they asked me to be their community coordinator,” said Reese, “I was frightened. I didn’t want to let them down, you know? I had done fundraisers before, but $125,000? That seemed like a star I just couldn’t reach.”
Reese started reaching, and now the stars around Ramona seem much brighter and closer indeed.
Reese credits the “jump-start” of the fundraising to “A Cup of Yo,” the first fundraiser before Reese became involved.
“They were friends of Vanessa’s and they catapulted the whole thing, really.”
Reese believes the ease of fundraising was two-fold. First, the people in the community look out for each other, but also every fundraising dollar went entirely to Liam’s expenses.
“We didn’t have overhead or advertising,” she said. “Every penny raised went into a fund for baby Liam. Once word got out, people started calling me to the point I got overwhelmed. But that’s a good problem to have! The sigh of relief came in October once we knew we had exceeded our goal.”
Though immediate needs have been met, Reese said the account is still open, as there will always be a need.
“Another Zumba class at Ramona Fitness is being planned already,” she said.
Liam is beginning to go through the lab workups to determine if an anonymous donor is a better match than mom for the organ transplant.
“The team is deciding between me and one other person,” said Vanessa Houck. “We think we are looking at a transplant in May or June.”
Vanessa’s kidney is only a “half-match,” so the kidney of the other donor is being tested, but there’s “no more time for a better kidney” as the clock is still ticking for Liam. In total renal failure, Liam has been on dialysis for over a year, she said. “Dialysis is hard on a child … It can cause bone disorders, it is hard on the heart as well as the development of other organs.”
As a military family, the Houcks will eventually see the deployment of the boy’s father. In the meantime, the Houck family has transitioned from being new members in the community — they’ve lived in Ramona since April — to becoming part of an extended family of sorts that includes the community.
When asked if there is anything else the family needs, Houck said several people have asked about a Facebook page or somewhere they can check for updates. People can go to the COTA website (cotaforliamh.com), but Houck said that a “fan or Facebook page” would be a “welcomed resource” if someone in the community “is good with that kind of thing” and feels so led.
To donate to or for more information on Liam, readers are encouraged to visit cotaforliamh.com. To participate and/or contribute to the fundraisers, check the website and the Ramona Sentinel. Persons interested in becoming actively involved may contact Ramona Family Naturals at 760-787-5987 or Reese at 858-449-4844.