‘Hoping for the best’: FWB alumnus diagnosed with astrocytopathy, seeks help through GoFundMe
FORT WALTON BEACH — Corey Bonner is asking for your help.
In times such as these, Bonner knows that can be a difficult proposition, but after dazzling under the lights at Steve Riggs Stadium and on the track at Troy University, the former Fort Walton Beach football player and Trojan sprinter can count only on his community to shepherd him through the journey he is about to undertake.
Two weeks ago, as the calendar turned from June to July amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonner, just 22, was diagnosed with autoimmune glial fibrillary acidic protein astrocytopathy following two months of rigorous testing and two hospitalizations.
“It’s been a crazy ride honestly,” Bonner said.
After sending away panels to the Mayo Clinic for analysis, neurologists at Baptist Health Care in Pensacola told Bonner and his mother, Sonya Hinzie, astrocytopathy — only discovered in 2016 — is both “very rare” and equivalent to “autoimmune encephalitis, meningitis and myelitis all together.”
Essentially, Bonner’s own immune system was attacking his brain and spinal cord. Worse still, Hinzie said she was informed “in a third of the patients that have been diagnosed with (astrocytopathy), cancer is related.”
The neurologists at Baptist Health Care in Pensacola referred Bonner to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville for further evaluation and treatment. He has his first appointment scheduled for Monday. Without health insurance, though, Hinzie said that first visit will cost $5,000 out of pocket. A follow-up could cost as much as $12,000.
After being denied for Medicaid “repeatedly” and exhausting most other options, Hinzie turned to GoFundMe, a web crowdfunding platform, and her community to help her son this past Tuesday.
“There’s so many people that we’re just not able to reach that know him and love him and would be willing to help,” she said.
In just two days, 145 donors — many of whom were Bonner’s former teammates at Troy — have raised $6,751 toward an initial $50,000 goal, which should be more than enough to cover Bonner’s first visit to Jacksonville.
“Honestly, the people in my life, even if I don’t talk to them, they have been so loving and caring,” Bonner said. “I can’t thank all of them enough for what they have done for me.
“It’s crazy to think how many people can actually care about you.”
Many of those people have made their compassion known since Bonner was first hospitalized shortly after Mother’s Day. Living with his girlfriend near Gulf Breeze, Bonner started to exhibit intermittent “stomach bug symptoms” and sought treatment at the Gulf Breeze Baptist Hospital emergency room. All of his tests came back negative, including one for COVID-19, so he was instructed to go home, get some rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Only a few days later, Bonner’s fever had not broken, he was struggling to keep food down and he had started to retain urine, so he visited an urgent care facility for another battery of tests, including a urinalysis and another round of coronavirus testing.
“Every thing was negative,” Hinzie said. “They’re like, ‘It’s just a virus. You’re gonna have to let it pass. Sometimes it takes a minute.’”
Four days after his visit to the urgent care facility, Bonner’s condition had not improved, so he again went to the emergency room in Gulf Breeze where he received a catheter and more inconclusive test results before being released.
The next day, June 22, Hinzie called her son repeatedly to check in without any answer from he or his girlfriend. She started to worry.
“The next call I got was that he was in an ambulance,” Hinzie said. “He was kind of unresponsive when she came home from work … At that point he was full-on hallucinating.
“They took him to the Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. They admitted him pretty much immediately. They did MRIs, CT scans, everything else and everything came back clean.”
Bonner stayed in Pensacola for five harrowing days.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through,” he said. “I just didn’t know what to expect just because of all the tests that came back negative. It was kinda hard to really think about what was going on.
“Honestly, I don’t really remember most of it. But the things I do remember was terrifying.”
Bonner didn’t start to find answers until the doctors performed a spinal tap procedure shortly after his hospitalization. The test revealed “high protein, low glucose and a lot of white blood cells,” Hinzie said, indicating an infection. The panels taken were then sent to the Mayo Clinic for further analysis, and Bonner was prescribed steroid treatments and intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) to both tear down and rebuild his immune system before he was again released to go home with a follow-up visit scheduled to review the panel results that would ultimately reveal his diagnosis.
“Without insurance, they don’t like to keep you just to watch you,” Hinzie said.
By this point Bonner, a three-time Florida High School Track & Field State qualifier, had lost 40 pounds, needed a walker to move around and had to relinquish his Division-I scholarship with a year of eligibility left.
“Corey has been working toward a Division-I scholarship since he was 8 years old,” Hinzie said. “He gave up summers, he gave up everything to do this.”
The good news is thus far Bonner’s steroid treatments have helped. He is still weak, but he is walking again and he has some 30 days of steroid treatment left. Hinzie said doctors have warned that Bonner’s symptoms may resurface after the treatment ends, but she and her son have hope.
Hope that Monday’s visit to the Mayo Clinic may yield more answers. Hope provided by a community banding together to care for an ailing friend. Hope that this can and will get better.
“I’m just hoping for the best,” Bonner said. I know God has a plan for me, and I trust it.”