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AFAS grant touches Airman's family

Cutline: Staff Sgt. James Starcher plays with his son Bryson at their home April 22. Assistance from the Air Force Aid Society has helped the Starcher family pay for Bryson's medical care. Sergeant Starcher is with the 802nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alan Boedeker)

Cutline: Staff Sgt. James Starcher plays with his son Bryson at their home April 22. Assistance from the Air Force Aid Society has helped the Starcher family pay for Bryson's medical care. Sergeant Starcher is with the 802nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alan Boedeker)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The parents were prepared to do whatever was necessary for their 5-month-old son; nothing was more important than purchasing the medical equipment he needed.

If it meant selling a vehicle and riding bikes or eating noodles for a year, so be it. No stone would be left unturned to help their son.

Assistance from the Air Force Aid Society several months ago eliminated those scenarios for Staff Sgt. James Starcher, wife Kim and youngest son Bryson, now 9 months old.

AFAS provided the Starchers a grant to purchase the medically-necessary cranial band to reshape Bryson's head. The grant covered the cranial band's cost, more than $3,000, after the Starchers' medical insurance carrier repeatedly denied their claim even though Bryson's doctors medically validated its necessity.

"Our son needed this. We would have done whatever we had to do," Kim Starcher said about the cranial band's large out-of-pocket expense before getting the AFAS grant. "It didn't matter if we had to sell a car and buy bikes, we would have figured it out."

Her husband quickly agreed. "It would have been tight and a huge burden on the family. We would have been eating Ramen noodles all year."

The Air Force Aid Society is one of four organizations supported by the current Air Force Assistance Fund campaign, which concludes six weeks of fundraising May 6. AFAS provides loans and grants to Airmen worldwide with specific emergency needs in addition to other family support functions.

When Sergeant Starcher told his supervisors at the 802nd Logistics Readiness Squadron about his situation, they suggested he contact the squadron's first sergeant to see if AFAS assistance was a possibility.

"I didn't think they covered situations like we were in," Sergeant Starcher said. "I called our first sergeant (Master Sgt. Roderick Walker), sent him a detailed e-mail about what happened with the insurance company, what we needed and why.

"He forwarded it to Kevin Keith (AF Aid Officer, Airman and Family Readiness Center), who directed me to an article on the AFAS website about the same exact situation. I told him it was verbatim everything we were going through."

From there, it was just a matter of days before the Starchers received a grant to order and purchase the cranial band.

"When (AFAS) said we'll get you the money, they did. It was so fast," Mrs. Starcher said. "They were nothing short of amazing. It's absolutely touching to know there are people who donate to something like AFAS, who can then help those in need."

A cyst on Bryson's head made him lay only on the opposite side after being born prematurely last August. As his head began to grow out of shape, it caused his forehead to push down on his right eye.

Once the cyst was removed and a plate inserted, a cranial band was required to correct the irregular shape and redirect growth while Bryson's head was still soft. The band would reshape his head, and help him avoid future vision, hearing and jaw complications as he grew.

Bryson had the cyst removed from his head in January. He started wearing the cranial band 23 hours a day a week after the surgery to retard growth on one side while allowing it on the stunted side. He's now more than halfway through the reshaping, one of several major medical issues facing Bryson and his parents.

"We've been touched to the soul by total strangers," Mrs. Starcher said. "They've helped Bryson, helped us, and they don't know it. We're very appreciative.

"Bryson has the most infectious smile, and he looks so adorable in his helmet. He's a sick baby but he's so happy.

He can go through everything he's been through and still smile at the world; I want to be like that."