ENDERBY - Ray Hartt, an Enderby firefighter, will do just about anything for his wife, recently diagnosed with a rare and fatal autoimmune condition. He doesn’t hesitate to do the dishes or the laundry. He installed a remote control camera in the house so he can keep an eye on her, even when he’s not home. To keep her warm, one of the biggest challenges with her condition, he built a blanket fort in their living room so they could cozy up and watch movies. For the first time in his life, he’s asked friends, family and complete strangers for money. He wouldn’t do it for himself, but he’ll do it for her.
“It was the hardest thing for me to do to ask for help,” Ray says. “But I’ll do whatever it takes to get her the help she needs. I’ll beg, grovel—I won’t steal—but I’ll sit on the corner and play music if that’s what it takes. I’ll do whatever I can for her.”
In secret, Ray launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $5,000 to cover moving expenses so he and Noelle can relocate closer to medical specialists. He’s already halfway toward the goal and is overwhelmed by peoples’ generosity and warm words of support.
“I’ve saved every single message, email or even notice through the Go Fund Me site so that when this is all over, I’m going to find some way to thank them, even if I have to go cut their grass for them, I’ll do it,” Ray says.
After moving to the Enderby area six years ago, Ray and Noelle quickly became active in the community. Ray joined the Enderby Fire Department and is now the training officer. Together, they started the Enderby Fire Rescue Society, raising money for equipment, training, and fire hall improvements. For two people who are always helping others, it wasn’t easy to suddenly find themselves in need.
It all started in May 2013 when, after a routine vision check up, the optometrist noticed a red flag. Noelle was soon diagnosed with Type II diabetes, bad news, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She overhauled her diet, and Ray supported her by eating what she ate. A month later, the blood drained out of her index finger and turned pure white. When it started happening more frequently, Noelle went online and quickly self-diagnosed herself with Reynaud’s, a condition that results in reduced blood flow in response to cold or emotional stress. Although painful to the touch when it occurred, Noelle didn’t visit the doctor until she developed sores on her finger that wouldn’t heal. She’d been right about having Reynaud’s. What she didn’t know was she had an underlying condition called Crest Syndrome, or Systemic Schleroderma, an autoimmune condition that causes a person’s internal organs to harden over time due to an overproduction of collagen. Eventually, Noelle’s jaw and esophagus will harden to the point where she will need to be put on a feeding tube.
“At least I’ll never get wrinkles, that’s what I always say,” laughs Noelle.
Despite being told Noelle may only have 10 years left, she and Ray have maintained humour in their every day lives.
“We have to joke about it,” Ray says. “We know what’s going to happen, nothing will stop it. We have a long road ahead of us. We have to have fun, that’s what keeps us going.”
Noelle has adapted to life with her condition. She wears oven mitts when going into the freezer, and avoids touching things like cold metal spoons that can set off a reaction. But as prepared and conscious as she and Ray have been, nothing equipped them for the next phase of Noelle’s medical troubles.
She began experiencing aching pains in her shoulders and back, pain that had her walking around the house like a zombie at night. After a particularly bad night, she and Ray visited the doctor. What she’d been chalking up to heart burn had been much more. Noelle had actually suffered a heart attack the night before finally going to the doctor. Her arteries were between 60-75 per cent blocked, some of them 100 per cent blocked. She was flown to Vancouver for triple bypass surgery and returned home feeling stronger and more energetic. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Ten days before Christmas, with family arriving in two, Noelle began feeling the same heart attack symptoms as before and returned to the hospital. Doctors told her she had two more major blocks, and there was no way around more bypass surgery. Noelle has a triple to quadruple bypass surgery scheduled for later this spring.
Noelle’s doctors have advised her to take each day as it comes and work on managing her condition, but her desire is to take a more proactive approach. She’s looked into promising stem cell research in the U.S. and eventually wants to give it a shot.
She wants others to learn from her experience, particularly those who may also have Reynaud’s, the fairly common condition she dismissed for a long time.
“Don’t just self diagnose like I did for a year, go get checked out,” she says. “I wish I had known earlier.”
You can follow Noelle’s story, and donate, on Ray’s Promise, the Go Fund Me page he set up last month.
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