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Local family stranded, struggling to bring sick daughter back from Florida

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Three weeks ago, Paula and David Strauss decided to drive the family down to Marco Island, Fla., to visit David’s father and enjoy the beach. It’s also their 18-year-old Madison’s favorite thing to do.

“We needed a much-needed vacation,” said David, Madison’s stepfather. “She loves the water. She’s a water bug.”

Madison Ross, or Maddie, was born with spina bifida and has had cerebral palsy since she was four months old. Her mother, Paula, is proud her daughter has come this far.

“She went a whole year without smiling,” said Paula. “The doctor at Riley Hospital basically said she was going to be a vegetable.”

However, things turned for the worst on their third day on vacation. Madison suddenly had trouble breathing. The family decided to call 911.

“I kept crying saying, ‘I don’t think this is okay. I think there’s something going on,'” said Paula. “This is a huge shock because we’ve been to places and she’s never gotten sick. She’s never been this sick before ever in her life.”

Maddie was taken to the Physician’s Regional Medical Center in Naples, Fla., 13 miles away. The teen was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia and immediately put on a ventilator.

“We got to the hospital just in time,” Paula said. “If we waited any longer, it would have been much worse.”

After the first night in the hospital, Maddie’s step-dad started making plans to bring her home. Doctors said the only option was by air.

An 1,100 mile flight home on a privately-owned air ambulance would cost the family, on average, between $20,000 to $30,000 per trip. Maddie’s insurance wouldn’t cover it. The family also couldn’t afford it.

“We were kind of freaking out because we’re stuck,” said David. “I was trying to think of creative ways like rent an RV and bring her back that way but [doctors] said no.”

Maddie’s family has been taking turns sleeping in the hospital for three weeks now. They only have seven to 10 days before Maddie will be sent to a long-term rehabilitation facility in St. Petersburg, Fla., two hours away.

“In Indianapolis, a lot of rehabs are like a nursing home,” said Paula, as she wiped the tears off her face. “I swore I would never put her in a place like that as long as I was alive.”

In need of a miracle, David finally came Grace on Wings. The nonprofit air ambulance in Plainfield is the only one in the nation. Hal Blank, CEO and Chief Pilot, offered to cover the costs of bringing Maddie home, minus the fuel. The fuel bill came to nearly $10,000, though.

“When you add aviation and healthcare together, the costs go up to the stratosphere,” said Blank. “Who would want to leave their child behind? I could not imagine. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”

The Mitsubishi MU-2 high-wing aircraft has all the equipment to keep Maddie comfortable while she’s flying, including a full ventilation system, monitor and IV pumping system.

Maddie’s family is encouraged by the news as her health continues to improve, but they’re still struggling to gather the funds to bring Maddie back.

“We need to get her back home,” said Paula.

If you’d like to help Maddie, you can make a donation at http://www.graceonwings.org/donations.html. You will be redirected to a secure site where you request a donation specifically under Madison Ross’ name.