Terminally ill Army wife headed to London, thanks to readers' generosity

By Erin Prater Published: December 9, 2013 | 8:40 pm 0

A Colorado Springs Army wife dying of a rare genetic disorder can travel to London to receive an experimental life-extending treatment, thanks to the generosity of Gazette readers.

In October, Melissa Klein, a 21-year-old suffering from an incurable genetic disorder called mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalopathy, started an online campaign to raise $10,000 for the treatment: erythrocyte encapsulated thymidine phosphorylase, designed to repair the molecular defect that causes her condition.

The treatment is being offered in London to those who can pay $6,100 a month for it. Because it hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it isn't covered by the Kleins' insurance. Melissa Klein tacked on an additional $3,900 to her fundraising goal for travel expenses.

Melissa Klein is the wife of Spc. John Klein, a soldier assigned to Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Battalion due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan in 2011 when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

Doctors don't expect Melissa Klein to live past 30, but the 63-pound woman doesn't think she has that long.

When The Gazette posted an article about Melissa Klein's plight around midnight on Saturday, she'd collected about $1,700. On Sunday morning, the article went viral. and within hours, Melissa Klein's goal of receiving life-extending treatment morphed from a pipe dream to a very possible reality.

As of 9 a.m. Monday, just 33 hours after the article was posted, Melissa Klein had raised $7,464.

At 9:30 a.m., an anonymous donor gave $3,000, pushing her campaign over her $10,000 goal.

As of press time Monday evening, nearly $12,000 had been donated to Melissa Klein's Indiegogo.com fundraiser.

Donations of all sizes, from $1 to $3,000, have streamed in since the article's publication. In addition, many people emailed Sunday and Monday about making a donation via PayPal, check or local bank. Those individuals include a man who said he'd donate $1,000 and pay for the couple's airfare to and from London. He also said he may be able to arrange accommodations for the couple while in London, thanks to his connections.

"I can't see through my tears!" Melissa Klein told The Gazette Monday morning via Facebook message after hearing the news.

"I woke up an hour and a half ago and it was at $7,000. I went to the bathroom and threw up and came back to $10,500! I cannot believe it!"

Though she eats very little and receives the vast majority of calories via a port in her chest, Melissa Klein still throws up bile multiple times a week due to her disease.

"My phone keeps notifying me of donations, and I have had to do a lot of deep breathing and walking away from my computer since everyone started donating," she said. "It's overwhelming but in an exciting way, and I am so, so, so grateful."

John Klein was shocked by readers' generous response, which has given his wife a much-needed morale boost. "I didn't think we were going to be able to raise near enough," he said Monday afternoon via phone. "I was really surprised that much came in so quickly. We're really grateful."

On Monday, Melissa Klein said she'd contacted the London doctor who administers the treatment about logistics and is awaiting a response.

Both she and her husband are working with their doctors to determine how to obtain medical supplies they each will need during their stay in London.

Because of logistics, Melissa Klein doesn't anticipate being able to travel until January at the earliest.

After travel expenses, the $10,000 she aimed to raise will cover just one month of treatment. Though the treatment is designed to be administered on a regular basis, Melissa Klein said there was no way she could afford repeated sessions and was simply hoping to remember what normal feels like again before she dies.

Now that she's raised more than $10,000, Melissa Klein plans to save up for a second month of treatment. If for some reason she cannot receive two months of treatment, any extra money will be used to pay off the couple's debts, John Klein said Monday evening.

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