When 5-year-old Bobbi Guerrette talks about visiting California, the first thing she mentions is the big green frog slide at the children’s pool in the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. She also talks about going to Sprinkle’s Cupcakes in the Stanford Mall with her friend, 16-year-old Shy Sarah Adelman of San Jose.
Yet the primary reason the little girl has made four trips to the Bay Area is for surgery at the California Ear Institute in East Palo Alto. Bobbi, who lives with her family in Mar Hills, Maine, was born without ears, a rare condition called bilateral microtia with atresia.
Bobbi’s parents, Jamie and Ryan Guerrette, first brought Bobbi to the institute in 2010. Since then, in four separate surgeries, doctors have built both ears for Bobbi and repaired a hole in her Eustachian tube. Her most recent visit was this week.
“Bobbi has beautiful ears now, and she can wear sunglasses and earrings, which she always wanted to do,” Jamie Guerrette said in a telephone interview before this week’s visit. “On one side, her hearing is restored, and on the other side, she wears a bone-anchored hearing aid.”
Toby Adelman, a nursing educator at San Jose State University and Shy’s mother, has served as a West Coast connection for the Guerrettes since their first trip here.
“I’ve been in California since 1983, but I grew up in Mars Hill,” Adelman said. “When the doc in my hometown called to tell me a family there was coming here for surgery, I wanted to entertain them.”
Adelman approached the JCC. Alan Sataloff, the executive officer there, immediately provided free family membership passes good for whenever the Guerrettes were in town.
“I am so grateful to Alan and so proud of my Jewish community for doing tikkun olam for this little girl,” Adelman said.
Adelman and her daughter have spent time with the Guerrettes each time they have traveled to Palo Alto, including a visit to the JCC pool on April 10. Shy, a sophomore at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, considers herself Bobbi’s “California Big Sister.”
“Bobbi is just adorable,” Shy said. “I took her out for Chinese food and taught her to use chopsticks, and I also bought her some Hello Kitty makeup at Sephora.” The Adelmans are members of Congregation Beth David in Saratoga.
The Adelmans’ hospitality has meant a great deal to the Guerrettes. “We really appreciate having that local connection,” Jamie Guerrette said. “We’re from a small town in a rural area, and we were so apprehensive about spending so much time in Palo Alto — we’ve had to be there a month each time [until the most recent visit] — but now we have fallen in love with the Bay Area.”
Because Bobbi’s surgeries had to be paid for up front and because the Guerrettes’ health insurance would not cover all the costs, in 2009, the family started the Bobbi’s Build an Ear Foundation to raise $100,000. One week after the Bangor Daily News published a story about Bobbi, anonymous donors provided the needed funds.
The donors stipulated that the Guerrettes use half of any insurance reimbursement to set up college accounts for their children (they also have an 8-year-old daughter, Carly) and half to help pay medical expenses for other children in Maine. Ryan Guerrette, 34, runs a ski resort, and Jamie, 33, a social worker by training, now stays home to care for the children.
Recently, the Guerrettes have applied for 501(c)3 status for the Bobbi’s Build an Ear Foundation, and they now hold two fundraising events each year to help other children.
“So far, the need has exceeded the donations, but we have been able to assist 50 families, so we are paying it forward,” Jamie Guerrette said. “That’s been another amazing part of this journey.”
For more on Bobbi’s story, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/bobbijoguerrette.