On Thursday night, Luis Francisco González, 33, sat down in On Point Ink tattoo parlor in Jacksonville, Fla., and got a tattoo of the logo of the popular Web site Reddit. It was his first tattoo ever and before last week, González was not a regular Reddit user. But he decided to permanently put Reddit’s alien on his arm as a reminder of — and as a thanks to — the Web site that he credits with saving his three-year-old son’s life.
In one night, Reddit users raised more than $31,000 to help pay for González and his family’s move to Durham, N.C., where his son will undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Lucas González was born with a rare form of Hyper IGM Syndrome, meaning he has a severely compromised immune system. Though outwardly happy and healthy, he ran an incredibly high risk of injury and disease. His doctor at Duke University, Rebecca Buckley said its difficult to determine how many children suffer from the disease as it is often not diagnosed and the children may die from a seemingly harmless childhood illness.
However, a bone marrow transplant can cure González. In order to receive the treatment and to make it through the six-month recovery process, Lucas and his family have to relocate to be close to his doctors at Duke University for six months. His parents decided they would both quit their jobs to care for the boy and his baby brother. After meeting with financial planners, the family decided they would need to raise $50,000 to support themselves during Lucas’s treatment.
The family started a Web site, and held a fundraiser for family and friends. David Haney, Lucas’s aunt’s boyfriend, thought the family might have a chance at using social media to stir up some generosity. They tweeted out the Web site to celebrities, hoping one of them would pick up the cause, and Haney suggested they try Reddit, a social media message board where users often post links to short photo essays about their lives.
González and his family posed Lucas with a series of message boards, telling his story and how he needed help. “Hi Reddit, I’m Lucas! I’m 3 years old, have a 1 in 1 million disease, and need a bone marrow transplant!” the message read.
The photos show a grinning little boy who’s at first enjoying the strange game his parents have concocted for him, but who grows increasingly fidgety as the game goes on too long. Gonzalez said working with a three-year-old model meant Skittles as bribery and acknowledging “the law of diminishing returns.” But they managed to piece together the story in a story of graphic-novel-come-to-life series of images.
Haney, a regular Reddit user who goes by the screen name Ironyx, posted the series of images to the “assistance” section and the family hoped they would get — maybe in their most wild dreams — $10,000 in donations. The series hit a nerve. The donations started coming in small — $20 here, a $200 there. And they came in fast.
González said his family watched in disbelief as people all over the world offered up small gifts to help his family. A child’s entertainer in New Zealand auctioned off a show and donated the funds to Lucas. An online poker player in the Czech Republic offered $800. Many of the donations came in with an additional promise: to sign up for the international bone marrow donor registry.
Just after midnight, Haney updated the post: “Reddit. You are cut off. Stop. Stop now. We have all that we need. I cannot thank you enough.” The family had almost reached their goal of $50,000 in just a few hours.
Social media sites have seen a flurry of flash fundraisers this month. Elsewhere on Reddit, users have raised thousands of dollars for Doctors Without Borders and on Twitter Thursday, two journalists asked their followers to raise $5,000 for schools in honor of their birthday. It’s putting the mob mentality to fast and furious fundraising.
There are concerns that the generous goodwill could be taken advantage of — as it has in the past. Though the hive mentality that goes toward raising money, also has been honed into ferreting out hoaxes. For example, Reddit users quickly verified with Duke doctors that Lucas was indeed a patient.
González says the experience is “nothing short of a miracle.” He’s looking forward to Lucas growing up, with the new immune system built from the bone marrow transplant, and asking his dad why he has the funny-looking alien tattooed on his arm.