Lief O’Neill, a 9-year-old Monroe boy who is severely autistic but also highly communicative, came within hours of dying in late November after being denied a heart transplant in Oregon due to his disability. But doctors at Stanford’s Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital heard of his plight and agreed to do a surgical procedure that will hopefully keep him alive until a suitable heart can be found. He was flown from Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland to Palo Alto and had the surgery Dec. 4.
Finding a donor heart could take months, says family friend and former Eugene neighbor Carole Biondello.
“Through the dedication of his parents, Lief has learned to communicate via computer,” Biondello says. “It was the key to unlock his world and for the first time, Lief was able to share just how much he knew. It was beyond profound, not only a huge milestone for Lief, but for all parents of kids with autism who didn’t believe it was possible.” One reason autistic children are reportedly denied organ transplants is because they are not always able to communicate and participate in their recovery.
Lief’s parents are Jessica (Sunshine) Bodey and Cyrus Parsons. The family owns Great Mist Trees, a pesticide-free Christmas tree farm in Monroe. While the family is at the bedside of Lief in California, volunteers have taken over tree sales in the parking lot of The Healthy Pet at 28th and Friendly in Eugene. A Facebook page called “Life for Lief” has been set up to keep family and friends up to date on his medical condition, and the next fundraiser for Lief will be a holiday bazaar and “Sensory Safe Santa” event (for kids with autism and special needs) from 10 am to 4 pm Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Boys and Girls Club, 1645 W. 22nd Ave. in Eugene.
The family is getting support from A-Team, a nonprofit with about 300 members dedicated to children who are autistic and their families, says family friend Tiffany Mamalove, who is overseeing the tree sales from her wheelchair. Mamalove is herself the mother of three children with autism. “The donations have been amazing,” she says, “coming from all over the area.” Various fundraisers so far have generated about $13,000.