It’s been two weeks since Mount Sinai graduate Olivia Hiz was found unresponsive in her University of Alabama dorm room and put on life support. And while her family has been on pins and needles every day, the generosity of close friends, community members and total strangers are helping to keep their spirits up.
A GoFundMe page to support medical expenses and rehabilitation for Hiz was set up April 6 by her cousins a week after the 18-year-old college freshman was rushed to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, March 29.
After hours of testing, doctors diagnosed her with streptococcal pneumonia infection, which ultimately led to viral encephalitis, a severe swelling of the brain.
Just a few days before her collapse, Hiz was at home in Mount Sinai and visited the doctor to get some sinus symptoms checked. Once she was evaluated and returned to school, her symptoms escalated.
She has since been transported to University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham for treatment, where she’s currently relying on a respirator. The family said although she’s still not able to communicate verbally, she’s displayed slight cognitive ability by opening her eyes and moving her hands.
According to Hiz’s cousin Melissa Rosman, who posted the online fundraiser, the close-knit family of uncles, aunts and cousins decided quickly that a page should be made to help ease the burden of parents John and Lisa Hiz.
Considering the serious clinical situation, the family realized this could be a long haul for Olivia Hiz and her parents.
“The treatment Olivia’s receiving right now — the ventilator, all her tests, MRIs — is very expensive and they don’t know at the moment what will be covered by medical insurance and what won’t be,” she said. “Everyone in the family, of course, is devastated … [but] we’re being cautiously optimistic that she’ll wake up soon. Olivia is very caring, has a huge heart and she’ll always help everyone in need, which is why I’m so grateful people are helping her when she needs it most.”
“We’re just a very close family and when one gets cut, the other bleeds. This has been a difficult time for everybody.”
In just six days, the GoFundMe reached $31, 275 of a $50,000 goal from a total of 331 people, ranging from family friends to Mount Sinai-Miller Place community members to complete strangers. Individual contributions range from $5 to $1,915.
“We are just so grateful for all the love and support we’ve received,” Rosman said. “It’s been so incredible and everyone has been generous and caring through everything.”
Annmarie Farris, with a donation of $50, wrote on the page, “From one Alabama freshman mom to another, I am praying for you and your family.”
Jodie Schreck, a Mount Sinai math teacher, with a donation of $100, wrote, “Liv, Miss Schreck loves you … our hopes and prayers are with you and your family, awaiting to see your sweet smile.”
Hiz’s parents, who have been in the hospital at their daughter’s side every day, expressed gratitude for the generosity of those reaching out.
“John and I are just blown away by it; it just amazes me how many people care for her,” Lisa Hiz said. “I feel very blessed that people have gone out of their way, reached into their pockets and opened up their hearts to John and I … we are so touched by everyone’s support and the messages we’ve received.”
John Hiz said it’s comforting to know they can lean on their community for support.
“This basically confirms just how great our area is,” he said. “When there’s a crisis, the community comes together and supports its members and families … because we all grew up together. This is going to be an extremely long road to recovery, [but] we’re hanging in there.”
The former Mount Sinai varsity cheerleader, who won the 2016 Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship, is a human environmental sciences major at the university and made the Dean’s List during her first semester with a GPA higher than 3.5.
Michael Rosman, Olivia Hiz’s uncle, said his niece is special.
“Olivia’s very outgoing and always the life of the party,” he said. “You always know when she’s in the room. She makes everybody laugh.”
John Rosman, her other uncle, who was at her bedside the first few days of her hospital stay, said the only thing he wants is for Hiz to be able to go home with her parents.
“We’re just a very close family and when one gets cut, the other bleeds,” he said. “This has been a difficult time for everybody and it’s just something you don’t expect to happen. Olivia’s parents have the support of family, the support of friends and the support of community.”
To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/oliviahiz.