PORTAGE PARK — Freddy Rafidi, owner of Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage, was 28 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Rafidi lived with the disease for 21 years, largely keeping it to himself. But his condition has worsened and his family is asking the public for help. Anna Linares, Rafidi’s wife, launched a GoFundMe fundraiser seeking to raise $80,000 to pay for an intense chemotherapy treatment offered outside the United States.
“He has lost vision in one eye, suffers from numbness and loss of cognitive function, strength to walk, extreme fatigue and numerous other issues that go along with having multiple lesions along his spinal cord and brain,” Linares wrote on the fundraiser. “Even simple joys such as walking on grass holding hands with our kids is impossible due to his extreme loss of balance.”
In more than two decades with the disease, which has no cure, Rafidi has tried medications, therapies and lifestyle changes — none of which significantly eased his symptoms, his family said. Recently, he and his wife learned about haematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
It’s an intense chemotherapy treatment that consists of four infusions over 28 days. It’s used to treat cancer, but when used against Multiple Sclerosis, haematopoietic stem cell transplantation aims to halt the disease by regrowing one’s immune system using stem cells from the bone marrow.
“The treatment will stop the progression. In many cases, although it’s not 100 percent guaranteed, it does help to alleviate some of the symptoms he already has,” Linares said.
Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation is not available in the United States for the type of multiple sclerosis that affects Rafidi. His family decided to arrange for the chemotherapy infusions in Mexico, but it’s not covered by their health insurance.
The couple has a tight deadline to come up with the money. The procedure needs to be scheduled and paid for two months in advance, Linares said, so the family needs the money by December for Rafidi to be able to receive the infusions in February, as planned.
After the fundraiser’s launch, Rafidi and his family, well known in their community because of their restaurant, were overwhelmed by the support they received. As of Monday, the GoFundMe raised more than $18,000.
“We are just so grateful that a lot of our customers and other small businesses in the area have stepped up and helped,” Linares said. “We really felt the sense of community.”
Other local businesses came up with their own initiatives to support Rafidi and his family. Earlier this month, Veloria Coffee, a neighbor of Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage, created a special roast in honor of Rafidi’s fight against multiple sclerosis.
The unique label on the back of the package explains that the roast has “bold and robust flavors that matches the bravery of our friend Freddy.” All proceeds from sales of the blend will be donated to the fundraiser.
Natalie Burnside, a close friend and neighbor of the Rafidi family, has been spreading the word about the fundraiser. She’s organized an event Nov. 21 at City’s Edge, 5310 W. Devon Ave. The fundraiser will include a grand prize trip to Cabo San Lucas, including airfare.
Updates on the event will be posted on Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage website and social media.
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