BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Maria Nolan of Bridgeport devotes her life to helping suffering children worldwide through her job at Save the Children in Fairfield.
But Nolan's own child is now suffering due to complications from a rare brain aneurysm. And her friend Michelle Gruner of Trumbull is asking the public to help Maria in her time of need.
Nolan's son Patrick, who is 21 and has Down syndrome, is in the intensive care unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
In a recent text from Nolan, she said her son had his breathing tube removed.
“While he can’t speak yet, his eyes are open and he is aware that people are in the room,” Gruner said in a phone interview. “Maria said they are headed in the right direction."
According to Gruner, Patrick will spend at least six months learning how to walk and speak again as part of his recovery.
Gruner has started a GoFundMe page to help Patrick's family pay his medical expenses.
With the family spending time with Patrick at the hospital, "This means time away from work, reduced pay, exhaustion of vacation time and sick leave, daily parking fees at the hospital, medical bills and excessive takeout orders," according to the website.
So far, the GoFundMe page, called "Patrick's Miracle Fund," has raised $10,700 with a goal of $20,000.
“We surpassed our initial goal of $10,000 in just 48 hours, so we upped the goal to $20,000," Gruner said.
"The fact that people can be so generous really restores my faith in humanity. It’s pretty magical. It’s really a Christmas miracle."
Nolan, a mother of four, has also had to endure her own health problems -- she has had three bouts with cancer. “It started with breast and traveled to other parts of her body," Gruner said.
"The last time she had it, it moved into her jaw and attached itself to her jaw bone. She needed major facial reconstruction."
All of this has changed Nolan's life physically, mentally and emotionally. "Despite all of this, she shows up to work every day," Gruner said.
The two women have been friends for nine years. They work together at Save the Children, a nonprofit organization that works worldwide to give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. Nolan works as a human resources associate.
“This family has endured so many horrific medical issues and has a mountain of medical debt so money is very tight for them,” Gruner said. Nolan's husband is also partially disabled, she said.
"Maria is very proud and wouldn’t ask for help directly so when Patrick got sick, I knew I had to step in," Gruner added.
According to Gruner, Patrick’s aneurysm symptoms began two weeks ago as a headache.
“The headache eventually became intolerable. When he was brought to the doctor, he was immediately sent to Yale. The family was told he has a rare aneurysm that was lodged in between vessels," she said.
Patrick underwent a nine-hour surgery. During and after the surgery, he suffered multiple strokes that left him unable to move, speak or breathe on his own.
“The surgeon told them the method he had to use had never been done before," Gruner said. The doctor said the surgery went as well as could be expected, she said.