Great Neck resident Sara Bezaley was 7-years old when she was diagnosed with swine flu in November of 2009.
Following a second swine flu diagnosis in February 2013, Bezaley had to undergo a heart transplant procedure and have her left leg amputated.
Bezaley now faces the challenge of getting around her Great Neck home in a wheelchair, in a house that her mother Tamar Bezaley says is not handicap-accessible.
“Our house is probably the least accessible for a child like this,” Tamar Bezaley said in an interview with the Great Neck News.
But help now appears to be on the way through a fundraising campaign put together by a group of Yeshiva University students in Manhattan using social media.
As part of a final college project, the seven women have raised more than $25,000 through the fundraising site Indiegogo.com to help make the Bezaley family’s home more wheelchair accessible by widening its doorways.
“We were not expecting it to be as viral as it is,” said Yalle Lasson, who will be graduating from Stern College for Women at the Yeshiva University this spring. “We’re really seeing how big it’s gotten.”
The idea for the fundraising campaign came from fellow Stern College senior Liran Weizman, a native of Boston, who is a family friend of the Bezaley’s.
Weizman said she met Sara Bezaley through her volunteer work at Columbia Hospital when she stayed overnight to keep Bezaley company after her heart transplant in 2013.
“They needed somebody to stay with her during the night,” Weizman said. “While I was there, I created a very strong relationship with the family.”
Weizman said her bond with the Bezaley family “allowed me to grow.”
Weizman said when she, along with Lasson and five other women were assigned to promote a social cause for their class “Social Media Driving Business Results” she thought of the Bezaley family.
“I just wanted to give back to them because they helped me grow so much,” she said.
Tamar Bezaley said she was skeptical about Weizman’s idea at first.
“My husband and I never really intended to fundraise for Sara,” she said. “We were just getting by with what we had.”
Tamar Bezaley said she allowed Weizman to go ahead with the project because of the time she spent with her daughter in the hospital.
“We really felt so deeply about Liran,” she said. “She’s always thanking us but she’s really the one helping us.”
Lasson and Weizman said the group worked for weeks to create a strategy to promote the fundraising campaign.
“We worked pretty hard at it even before it became public,” said Lasson, who is a native of Baltimore.
After shooting and editing a video telling Sara Bezaley’s story, the fundraising page went live on April 28.
The original goal for the project was $4,000.
“I was skeptical that we’d even make that,” Lasson said.
Less than 24 hours later, the page had raised about $10,000 in funds for the Bezaley family.
Weizman said the fundraising page quickly spread over Facebook and Twitter.
“It just exploded on social media,” Weizman said. “We didn’t understand how this was happening.”
Weizman and Lasson also credit the Great Neck community for supporting the Bezaley family.
“Once the Great Neck community saw this girl and knew who she was they just opened up,” Lasson said.
Tamar Bezaley said she has seen many people’s names on the fundraiser’s page that she recognized as members of the Great Neck community.
“It’s really an amazing thing,” Tamar Bezaley said. “We see how much love we’re surrounded by.”
Donors will also get the chance to receive “perks” for their contribution, including a chance to have dinner with the Bezaley family and attend Sara’s bat mitzvah.
“The site suggests that you have those perks,” Lasson said. “We thought that people would enjoy that.”
Tamar Bezaley said with the extra money raised through the campaign, she’d like to construct a handicap-accessible bathroom on the first floor for Sara to use.
“To add another bathroom, that’d be the ultimate goal,” she said.
People can donate at indiegogo.com/projects/open-hearts-open-doors until May 13.