ShariAnne Fischer needs your help. Her husband, Daved, has end-stage emphysema and, if he doesn't have lung reduction surgery in the next several months, he may die. ShariAnne doesn't like to leave Daved alone for very long, so holding down a job is out of the question. But you won't find her collecting unemployment insurance, or panhandling on a local street corner. Instead, ShariAnne has started her own Web site, www.HelpMyHusband.com, where she cyberbegs for donations to pay Daved's medical bills.
Seated on the floor of her East Valley home, ShariAnne tells me all about the newest trend in soliciting handouts and how she intends to make it work for her. At one point, Daved joins us, trailing yards of rubber tubing from a respirator in the next room. Neither he nor his wife believes there's anything unusual in asking strangers to pay their bills, and they're not afraid to say so.
New Times: What are Daved's medical troubles?
ShariAnne Fischer: He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, which is also called end-stage emphysema.
NT: Was Daved a smoker?
Fischer: COPD is genetic, but yes, Daved was a smoker. I'm very honest about that. According to his old pulmonologist, his smoking had no effect on his health. His father died from this at age 47, as did his two aunts. The doctors don't know whether it's genetic or not, they're just focusing on fixing Daved. Without one of two available operations, he's going to die.
NT: So, Daved was a smoker, and he has emphysema, and now you're asking people to donate money to help fix him.
Fischer: We've already been chewed out about that. Sometimes people don't even ask to hear our whole story, they just start yelling. But when you go to the public for help, you have to expect that some people aren't going to be nice. But mostly people are very kind. Okay?
NT: Okay. I'm guessing you don't have health insurance.
Fischer: When Daved got sick four and a half years ago, he had just started with a new company. He wasn't on their medical insurance yet when he got sick. So we ended up on AHCCCS for two years until we got him on Medicare. But there are a lot of things not covered on Medicare, like his prescription medicines. We spend between $350 and $550 a month on those. We don't make that much. We're juggling our bills, which we don't like to do because it screws up our credit rating. Oh. I'm sorry. I just said "screw."
NT: It's okay. You can even say "fuck" if you want to. I won't be offended.
Fischer: But your tape recorder is going!
NT: It's really all right. Anyway, you were saying you don't have any money, yet you live in this really big house in this nice housing development.
Fischer: We don't own it. My parents own it, and we pay them $850 a month to rent it.
NT: And you don't work.
Fischer: By trade, I'm a schoolteacher. I have a master's in education; I'm not a stupid person. I was subbing last year, but I didn't go to work since last year when Daved was rushed to the emergency room and they told us he was going to die. I'm not comfortable leaving him alone, now that he's getting worse. I don't like to go around the corner without him.
NT: No wonder people are yelling at you. You've stopped working and you're asking for assistance from strangers.
Fischer: We're asking for assistance with Daved's medical needs, not our household bills. They're completely separate things. For food, we don't go to a food bank, we have people who help us. And I sit for hours and clip coupons. What we need help with is getting the operation for him and the medications after. As soon as I'm comfortable that he's not going to die the minute I go out of the house, I'm going back to work.
NT: So you're good at paying for things without money.
Fischer: Well, that's part of it. Okay? But would people help us if we said that? The pulmonologist told us that they won't even see Daved unless they know he has $26,000 for the operation.
NT: So you've set up this Web site where strangers can make donations.
Fischer: It started on the Today show. There was this woman on Today who had gotten herself into credit card debt, and she set up this Web site and people sent her money. They also sent her nasty e-mails, but she was able to raise $13,000 anyway. We looked at our lives and said, "Here's Daved, a man who is going to die without this operation." We thought about it and we decided that people are basically good, so we figured if we can get one dollar from 100,000 people, then no one is bearing the brunt of these bills and he gets to live.
NT: What is the difference between this and panhandling?
Fischer: This is cyberbegging. It's not like when you see people at the side of the road asking for handouts, and you make judgments about them without knowing any information. Our Web site tells you the whole story about why we need donations. We've provided legitimate facts to prove that this isn't a scam.
NT: It could be.
Fischer: But it isn't! My brother and sister set up the Web site, and we put bumper stickers on our car that just say "www.HelpMyHusband.com." And we have friends and family all over the country who put the bumper stickers on their cars. We get donations from all over the country. Everyone who makes a donation gets an e-mail from me, thanking them, and we add their names to our Thank You list on the Web site.
NT: But how do we know what you're spending our donations on?
Fischer: Where else would it go?
NT: You could buy groceries. Or a new tube top.
Fischer: (Glancing down inside her blouse.) No. Hardly. I mean, yes, we could spend the money on ourselves, but we don't. We report what comes in, and when we make payments going out, we'll post those on the Web site. If the attorney general has a question, I'll be more than happy to answer it. I'm not using it for anything else. I want my husband to live.
NT: You need $100,000. How close are you to that goal?
Fischer: We're just a hair shy of $10,000. Which is amazing! We started this in January, and we're going, "Oh my gosh! We never thought we'd make this much!" People all over the world are helping. Eddie Basha wrote us a check for $1,000. A total stranger, and he sent us $1,000.
NT: What about the notion that we're all responsible for our own well-being?
Fischer: Are we alone here in this world? I don't think so. Daved and I have spent the majority of our married lives -- 14 years -- helping other people. We've donated furniture. We've let people live with us for free. Okay? We're constantly doing coupon shopping, and if it's food we don't like to eat, we donate it to a food bank. We've pulled onto the side of the road to help people with flat tires. We have been there for so many people, and what goes around comes around. If everyone who reads this sends a dollar, we'll be okay. Okay?
NT: Can I start a Web site to raise money to get my cat neutered?
Fischer: There are lots of people who need help. Okay? People who've suddenly lost a loved one and they have to pay for a funeral. Or people who have had tragic accidents.
NT: My car needs a paint job.
Fischer: Well, there are people who are starting to do the same thing we're doing. There was a lady on the news the other day, and she needs $100,000 for her husband, who has cancer.
NT: A copycat cyberbegger!
Fischer: Well, if it helps her. But, yeah, she's copying us. She's only had one garage sale, though. She's only been on one TV show, and her Web site is linked to Channel 12's Web site. Which doesn't seem fair to me, since we've been on a lot more TV shows and we're not linked to any TV Web sites.
NT: It's a war of the cyberbeggers!
Fischer: Speaking of wars, we were supposed to be on the Today show, and on Dateline in March. And we got a phone call from both shows saying, "Due to the impending war, you've been bumped."
NT: You were pre-empted by the war!
Fischer: Which was really too bad. Because what we need is some national publicity, and we would really be on our way. I think that's what will get us the money we really need.
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NT: How long does Daved have?
Fischer: Well, I told our doctor what we were doing to raise money, and that I planned to buy Daved his operation by next summer. The doctor said, "It needs to be sooner than that." (Weeping.) I take that to mean he doesn't have much more than a year.
NT: What happens if you don't collect enough?
Fischer: We don't know. Right now we're just focusing on collecting donations. We really believe that people will do the right thing. It's our only hope.