Little Zoey Walter was so eager to see Santa Claus, she flipped aside the screen on her home’s front door to get a better look at him as he arrived Friday with gifts.
She squealed with delight and said, “Santa gonna bring me a puppy!”
“I don’t know where that came from,” said Alicia Walter, Zoey’s mom. “She hasn’t said anything about wanting a puppy for Christmas until now.”
Santa didn’t bring a live puppy for three-year-old Zoey and her 9-year-old brother, Hayden, but Christmas is a sacred time often filled with sweet serendipity: the first gift Zoey opened was a Barbie doll that came with, you guessed it, a puppy. But not just any puppy. It’s a “Walk and Potty Pup.”
“It couldn’t have been a more perfect gift to open,” Alicia said. “She’s our little animal rescue kid. She loves animals.”
That perfect gift for Zoey, and the dozens more that Santa brought, were all made possible by readers who generously donated to the 41st annual Transcript Bulletin Benefit Fund to help the Casey and Alicia Walter family who has been struggling with medical debt since Zoey’s premature birth in 2015.
In addition to the gifts, readers also contributed more than $6,000 in cash and gift cards, which were presented to Casey and Alicia in their home Friday by Transcript Bulletin Publishing CFO Bruce Dunn.
“On behalf of the Transcript Bulletin Benefit Fund, and Transcript Bulletin readers, who we deem the best in the world, I present these checks to you,” Dunn said. “Thank you for letting us share with you. This has been a wonderful experience.”
And the grateful looks on both Casey and Alicia’s faces as they accepted the money hinted that it has been a wonderful experience for them, too.
“Thank you,” Casey said. “We appreciate it.”
“We feel blessed,” Alicia said. “Thank you.”
The Walters are like so many young families across America who struggle with debt caused by an unexpected medical emergency. In this case, it was the premature birth of Zoey in Oct. 2015. She was born 10 weeks early and with Intrauterine Growth Restriction.
Zoey was severely undersized and underweight at 1 pound, 8 ounces at birth. Today, she weighs 20 pounds, 6 ounces. Zoey is healthy, according to her parents, yet despite being three years old, she wears clothes of a child younger than 24 months.
Although her parents’ health insurance paid for most of the $300,000 hospital bill, Casey, 30, and Alicia, 29, are doing their best to pay down a combined $35,000 medical debt from Zoey’s traumatic birth and 89-day stay at University Medical Center’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit in Salt Lake City. Casey’s earnings are garnished monthly to make the payments.
A front-page story in the Dec. 11 edition announced the Walters as this year’s chosen recipient of the benefit fund and explained Zoey’s unexpected birth into her mother’s hands and the family’s challenges with medical debt. Another front-page story on Dec. 13 explained what Zoey and Hayden would like for Christmas.
According to the couple, the money gives them a place to start to undo a “mountain of debt” that they have been trying to pay off and get back to a normal life.
“We haven’t had a place to start until now,” Alicia said.
Both Casey and Alicia said they have no idea what’s in store for them in 2019. They are taking it one day at time.
“But all of this, this Christmas and all the ways God has blessed us, it’s going in the right direction for once, turning in a better direction,” Alicia said.
Held every Christmas since 1977, the benefit fund helps either an individual or family faced with a unique need or hardship. Individuals or families are nominated by readers and selected by the newspaper. Readers then donate cash or make other contributions. All received proceeds are presented to the individual or family on or before Christmas.