By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TVBy Paula Ebben

BOSTON (CBS) – Health care is so expensive that even people with insurance can get crushed by huge co-pays and deductibles.

Now, more and more people are getting help from complete strangers in covering those bills.

Maria Joffrian and Tommy

Maria Joffrian and Tommy

They’re raising money on crowdfunding or crowd sourcing websites. This approach to raising money started as a way for new businesses or artistic projects to get off the ground, but now covering health care related costs is one of the fastest growing areas.

Maria Joffrian would have a panic attack every time she had to start up her old minivan. That’s because she had to get her son Tommy from Leominster to Boston on a regular basis for chemotherapy. Even the windows had to be duct taped shut at one point.

Maria said getting anonymous donations to help her get a replacement van was overwhelming. About $6,000 was raised in one week.

Family friend Allison Paquette had the idea of setting up a crowdfunding site, and set it up. When asked how long it took to get it up and running, she said it was just a matter of seconds.

Crowdfunding for health care costs got national attention when the world’s tallest man raised almost $50,000 to have shoes custom made by Reebok of Canton.

Brad Damphousse, creator of believes these arrangements are a situation in which everyone wins. He isn’t worried about people perpetuating scams because he believes these pages are self-policed on the web. “We depend on our community to report any suspicious or fraudulent pages. ”

It isn’t just money that worries public health professor Alan Sager. The Boston University professor is concerned about equity as well. “Patients who are more photogenic, and who are members of some racial and ethnic groups might be more likely to draw money than patients who are members of other groups.”

But Tommy’s story points to the power of those individual cases. This is a case in which total strangers opened their hearts and their wallets to help a little boy who just needed some help. Maria said, “It’s a tangible thing that can absolutely help us, and I have been thinking, I will be driving with all these people. They will be coming with me, so I will be thinking about them.”

We checked back with Maria after she had the van for a couple of weeks. Tommy loves it. She says he’s even falling asleep on those long trips back and forth from Dana Farber and that is something that never used to happen.

If you’d like to see Tommy’s site, go to


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