When members of the Old Fort Harrison VFW Post on Hercules Avenue heard that the son of their beloved vocalist, Betsy Verdier, was in need of money for a kidney transplant, they did what all good VFW constituents do – they came up with a plan to help their fellow “family member."
Post officials organized a fundraiser on Sunday for Keith Sarif, a 39-year-old Holiday resident who contracted spinal meningitis in 2008, which led to his kidneys failing.
Doctors told him he needed a transplant, a critical procedure that costs an estimated $250,000.
“Betsy has a heart of gold, always helping other people out,” Stan Budke, head recruiter for the post, said during the event. “The least we can do is turn around and help her family out.”
Hundreds of vets, their friends, family members and even total strangers packed the post throughout the day and evening Sunday, bidding on donated items and buying raffle tickets for no reason other than to contribute to the cause.
“Lots of people don’t even know what they’re bidding on,” Budke said. “They don’t care, either. They just want to help out.”
Sarif has been undergoing daily dialysis treatments for the past year and has been unable to work.
He needed a deposit of $5,000 just to get on the transplant waiting list. The fee ensures that he can pay for the post-operation medications that are critical to recovery. His health insurance was not sufficient to cover the cost.
“Even once I get on the list, I’m probably still looking at another two years before I get the kidney,” said Sarif, who was surrounded by his girlfriend and two daughters. “But because of my age, more than likely the kidney’s not going to last my lifetime, so I’ll end up having to go through this once or twice more."
When it came to the subject of the love and support of his family, Sarif became extremely emotional.
“It’s been hard on the kids. I can’t do what I used to do,” he said through tears. "My girlfriend took a class … to become my home nurse. She’s been a Godsend. My mother … they’ve all been extremely supportive”
The soft-spoken Sarif was equally thankful for the outpouring of support from the post.
“As far as everybody coming together for me, it’s fantastic. I don’t know 10 percent of them, but I’m definitely grateful to everybody that came, and one day I would definitely like to pay it forward,” he said.
At the end of the evening, the total amount of money raised exceeded expectations: $8,072. But Sarif still faces many more obstacles, both physical and financial, on his road to recovery.
"I was happy that we raised enough money to get Keith on the waiting list, but not surprised," Budke said later. "It was a damn good day!"
If you would like to contribute to Keith’s medical fund, visit www.transplants.org/donate/keithsarif.