2009-02-06 / Community

Community helps family with struggles

By Michelle Knight knight@theacorn.com

STICKING TOGETHER—In healthier times, Thomas Hearne, center, shows off the gifts he received for his seventh birthday with his older brother Paul; father, Robert; and older sister Lauren at his side in May 2007. Now 8, Thomas is battling brain cancer and is undergoing a third round of chemotherapy treatment in a Los Angeles hospital this week. STICKING TOGETHER—In healthier times, Thomas Hearne, center, shows off the gifts he received for his seventh birthday with his older brother Paul; father, Robert; and older sister Lauren at his side in May 2007. Now 8, Thomas is battling brain cancer and is undergoing a third round of chemotherapy treatment in a Los Angeles hospital this week. Sunlight and rain no longer pour through the roof of the Hearne home.

The house atop a hill in northeast Camarillo sports a new front door and windows. Lath and threelevel scaffolding hug most of the house's exterior.

Over the past several months, neighbors, friends and strangers have come to the rescue of the Hearne family, who paid a contractor to remodel their house in 2007. The contractor didn't finish the job, Robert Hearne said, leaving the family home with few walls and no roof.

Several businesses and dozens of people have donated time and materials to put the Hearne home back together, although the recession has slowed progress. Volunteer workers have to look for paying jobs.

"They show up when they can—that's understandable," Hearne said. "It's coming along slowly."

Hundreds of people from Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and elsewhere have contributed money to help the Hearnes rebuild their home and pay for medical bills. In July, Robert and Tish Hearne's youngest son, 8year-old Thomas, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

This week, Thomas begins his third and most intense round of chemotherapy at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

In the preceding weeks, Thomas and Tish Hearne had been staying at Ronald McDonald House in Los Angeles—a home for families with children suffering from lifethreatening diseases—to be near the hospital in case Thomas developed a fever or complication from the feed tube implanted in his stomach or IV line connected directly to his heart.

"He's an inspiration," Hearne said of Thomas.

Hearne said his wife has been through a lot, too, up late on rainy nights helping him drape sheeting over the furniture to protect it from the leaky roof. She's too upset to talk about the contractor, he said. was the icing," Hearne said. "When Thomas got sick, that

Comments from friends and family on Thomas' website give her some solace, Hearne said. She posts updates on the website nearly every day on Thomas' condition and continues to sleep at Ronald McDonald House.

While the house is under construction—there is no bathroom, flooring or insulation yet—the older Hearne children—Lauren, 15, and Paul, 13—have been living with an aunt in town.

Hearne, a civil engineer who works in Oxnard, sleeps wherever he can. Neighbor Tom McCook offered Hearne a room in his house and stepped in as general contractor on the remodel.

"Everyone is trying to do what they can when they have the time to do it," said McCook, who estimated that as many as 40 people, including firefighters, sheriff's deputies and naval base personnel, have contributed in one way or another to the remodel.

McCook said the plumbing, electrical and framing should have passed city inspection last week. If so, insulation and drywall can go up on the inside and stucco on the outside. Then, he said, the "finish trades" can come in and install cabinets, flooring and doors.

McCook said he volunteered to help the Hearnes because he saw a good family in bad straits.

"What it comes down to is everybody trying to help. It's not just me," McCook said.

Hearne said with the progress on his house he sees light at the end of the tunnel. He named people and businesses who donated to put his house in order or help the family pay for Thomas' medical bills.

"There are truly amazing people out there," Hearne said.

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