Burb's Eye View: Learning the power of people

For the first time since he bought it, T.J. Hawthorne shut off his phone. He shut the door. He closed out the world. But from his computer, he reached out to it.

By hitting the "Share" button on his Facebook page, Hawthorne released his secret. For months, his liver was failing and now it was now dangerously damaged.

Resources were scarce; there were issues with his health insurance coverage. He'd been out of work for months. What once was a gleeful skip through life, as he described it, became a daily routine of rationing out medications until he could afford more.

"I had a very full and rich and at times lucky — at times charmed — life," he said. "I grew up in a great family and never wanted for anything. I landed in an industry that cares about the people in it."

This was a week and a half ago. Until then, most of Hawthorne's family never knew of the January diagnosis of liver disease. They did not — could not — watch him lose weight. Any time he was too weak to drive himself to the grocery store, the 13-year Burbank resident relied on a few close friends and neighbors.

On Aug. 8, one of those neighbors talked to Hawthorne about his options. He needed about $15,000 to get through the next few months until his disability payments kick in. The couple showed him the story of a woman with cancer who raised money through a website, gofundme.com, to help pay her bills.

His ego and image made him balk. Asking for help meant telling literally everyone he knew there was a problem. His family had no idea how bad it was — Hawthorne's liver is operating at 10% to 15% and that's as good as it will ever get.

He needed medicine to keep his liver from deteriorating. He needed living expenses and rent was overdue. He finally saw that he needed help.

That brought him to Facebook. It was a Sunday afternoon and many of Hawthorne's circle were given a heads-up to expect something today.

"It sounds so stupid, here I am facing not the brightest of futures and I'm scared to hit 'Share' on Facebook," he said.

If they reacted, he didn't know it. He shut them all out.

At least for a while. He couldn't hide forever.

Monday night, he turned the phone back on.

It blared out missed messages — voicemails, texts, Facebook notes. One of the first texts was the neighbor who helped set up the fundraising site. His page, which Hawthorne finished with two photos of himself taken two months apart showing his weight loss, had already earned more than $2,000.

Hawthorne's world shifted. He heard from strangers, coworkers, distant relatives. All of them left messages of support, and all of them wanted to help.

"The worst thing that anyone could have said is they wished they knew sooner so they could have helped sooner," he said.

By the second day, 39 people had pitched in $4,795.

A week later, Hawthorne passed the $10,000 mark.

If he reaches his $15,000 goal, Hawthorne will have living expenses and specialist appointments covered through October. He will next learn whether he can get on a list for a liver transplant, and when.

In the meantime, he updates his GoFundMe page with heartfelt videos that thank everyone for their contributions. As much as the videos are about those who have helped him, they are cathartic for Hawthorne, who no longer is in that dark room alone.

"This is the power of people coming together to rally around one guy that a lot of these people don't even know," he said. "That is what is so hard to believe about all this — the amount of love that is being shown."

To contribute to Hawthorne's medical fund, visit www.gofundme.com/3w9fqk.


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World