If Tonya weren’t intubated and fighting for her life, she would be thrilled to hear that her friends and community members are reaching out to GoFundMe for support, but a sudden, profound, and life-threatening medical emergency has gripped Tonya and left her family torn apart.
Currently diagnosed with ARDS – Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – Tonya was recently airlifted to the UCLA Medical Center where she is being cared for by some of the best lung specialists in the world and hopefully won’t have to have a lung transplant .
Last summer, Tonya was doing what she loves most: volunteering – first at Ukiah’s Redwood Empire Fair and then at the Mendocino County Fair.
“Each fair attendee has seen and experienced Tonya’s volunteer spirit – from her tireless commitment to our children in the farming community to the wonderful displays, displays and environment she creates for our fair attendees and visitors,” said Jennifer Seward, CEO of Fair Redwood Empire Fair in Ukiah. “She is part of this incredible group of people who enrich and enliven our fair. Tonya appears and the magic happens behind the scenes.”
Tonya can sew wedding dresses without a pattern – just from her overactive imagination. She is also an award winning beading expert and gardener – creating dazzling jewelry and breathtaking outdoor plantings.
For most people, a months-long volunteer engagement at the county fairs would be considered a towering achievement, but Tonya is no ordinary person. She has been a longtime 4-H leader, helping children raise the Navajo Churro sheep, and has volunteered at the California High School District 2 Rodeo.
One cannot live in Mendocino County without coming across Tonya’s community contributions: her handcrafted red, white and blue backdrops for the Ukiah Fire Department’s award ceremonies – her expert organization of the hugely successful sweepstakes for the Hopland Fire Department.
“Ron’s business, Rescue Solutions, is a strong supporter of the Redwood Empire Fair Junior Livestock Auction. Ron and Tonya consistently bid and buy animals, allowing Mendocino County youth to attend college, switch schools or buy another animal for the season ahead,” notes Seward.
“Tonya is a person who puts herself last. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen Tonya volunteer on a community project – giving her heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears selflessly to the point of near exhaustion,” says Seward. “She does it all while being the primary caretaker for her 98-year-old grandmother, Gigi, and is always there for family and friends.”
But last December, everything in the Roysum family changed dramatically.
After the onset of this year’s rains, Tonya noticed some swelling in her hands and feet. She put it down to the weather, or possibly arthritis. But soon the swelling became significant enough that she had to drop her beadwork. On December 13th, the swelling spread to her legs and stomach. Something was very wrong, and Ron drove Tonya 60 miles south to the emergency room at Santa Rosa’s Sutter Hospital.
Tonya’s initial diagnosis was pneumonia and panniculitis. The organs in her abdomen were swollen. She was treated for eight days and released on December 21, only to be readmitted after just one day back home because she couldn’t breathe. Tonya was admitted to the ICU and given oxygen and then placed on a CPAP machine because her oxygen saturation levels plummeted with the slightest exertion or movement.
The cause of Tonya’s condition was unclear, so doctors administered a “kitchen sink” of antifungals, antibiotics and steroids. Unfortunately, her breathing didn’t improve.
Tonya and her family were now on the emotional rollercoaster so familiar to those in a medical crisis. One afternoon, she is sitting down eating a popsicle. Then, with very little warning, she’s struggling to catch her breath. There were “ground-glass opacities” visible on her X-rays and CT scans, which mimic the appearance of pneumonia. Despite these indicators, pneumonia was ruled out and doctors were unable to effectively treat Tonya’s severe lung inflammation.
The family requested transport to a more sophisticated medical center. Initially, Tonya’s medical staff felt that she was too unstable to travel and, conversely, that she was not “sick enough” for emergency transport. But suddenly her condition deteriorated precipitously. She was intubated because she could no longer tolerate the oxygen from the CPAP machine. That was January 3rd and Tonya has been intubated and sedated ever since.
As the search for another hospital continued, the family struggled with the hellish realization of their insurance limitations. Sutter Hospital contacted Stanford Medical Center, which denied Tonya admission because the family’s insurance did not meet the criteria. Most major pulmonary hospitals in California have refused admission due to lack of bed space.
The University of California at Los Angeles is considered one of the top five pulmonary care facilities in the country. Initially, they refused. The reason: Tonya would have to be treated like a transplant patient. The family was told, “If we don’t know what caused this, we can’t waste a new set of lungs if we’re not sure a lung transplant will be successful.” Fortunately, Tonya’s team at Sutter Hospital persisted. UCLA reconsidered, and within an hour their flight crew was landing at Sutter and ferrying Tonya 500 miles south to Los Angeles.
Tonya’s team of infectious disease specialists and pulmonologists ordered a series of new tests. The pressure on the lungs and blood vessels from the CPAP machine and intubation tubes resulted in pneumothorax – air pockets in the chest, which required the placement of two chest tubes. For about 16 to 20 hours a day, Tonya is placed in a prone position to reduce the weight of the heart on the lungs. The number of “prone hours” is being reduced until your condition improves. Doctors are also trying to reduce Tonya’s sedation and dependence on high concentrations of oxygen to see what she can tolerate.
Currently, the family is accumulating small but consistent improvements to Tonya’s “win” column. They know she’s struggling. At best, Tonya’s doctors estimate that she should be hospitalized for a minimum of eight weeks, with an arduous and complex recovery to follow. Even a low fever, with which she recently woke up, can portend very serious consequences. Ron has rented a house nearby, acting as his advocate and providing updates to family and friends. Depending on Tonya’s progress, a lung transplant isn’t out of the question.
Though Ron was never anywhere but beside his wife of 35 years, the firefighter inside him certainly wished he could do what he does best – save lives during California’s deadly storms that broke out around the time Tonya was hospitalized.
Ron began volunteering with the Ukiah City Fire Department in 1995, moving from there to the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Department. He has been with the Hopland Fire Department for 15 years, where he is battalion chief.
In 2010, Ron started his business, Rescue Solutions, considered one of the top technical rescue teams on the West Coast. Its unusual range of services includes providing rope access crews trained to work in hazardous environments and carrying out real-time emergency rescue operations. Ron’s teams also provide training in confined space activities, rope rescue, rapid water rescue and flooding.
“Ron’s successful business in rescue systems trains others around the world – ensuring everyone is safer while doing their jobs,” notes Pete Bushby, retired fire captain with the Ukiah City Fire Department and friend of the Roysum family.
The Roysums are a “family of fire”, with daughters Erica and Alisha following Ron into volunteer fire service. Erica continues to be a volunteer engineer for the Hopland Fire Department.
The Mendocino County first responder community is grateful for Ron’s generosity. He has volunteered countless hours training firefighters and law enforcement agencies in rescue techniques. Ron has personally assisted the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office with several quick water rescues and search and recovery dive missions, and has donated not one, but two fire trucks to the Hopland Fire District. And when he’s not volunteering, Roysum is helping a fellow firefighter renovate his kitchen.
“This family has donated thousands of dollars to the Hopland Fire Department – making it a highly effective agency,” notes Bushby.
“I was supposed to write a few sentences about Tonya and Ron, but something brief just isn’t enough,” continues Bushby. “These two spent much of their adult lives as volunteer firefighters/paramedics – helping citizens of Mendocino County and beyond. There have been sacrifices on both sides to ensure that everyone returns home safely to their loved ones when tragedies strike.”
But ironically, Ron – a man who lives to rescue others – a person who has literally saved lives and facilitated the rescue of countless people, does not have the ability to save his beloved Tonya’s life.
When it comes to medical emergencies, you don’t have to be an economist to do the math. The list of financial unknowns is staggering. Expenses increase like wildfire. Ron mentioned to a friend that it costs $30 a day just to park at the hospital.
It’s still unclear what the insurance will cover, but like most first responders, Ron doesn’t bring home a millionaire’s salary, and the family has always put the welfare of others before their own.
Friends of the Roysums are requesting support in the amount of $100,000, which will help with Tonya’s medical expenses and costs not covered by insurance, allow 24-hour care for Grandma Gigi, replace Ron’s lost income, pay Ron’s rent, utilities utilities, transport and living costs and provide a six-month cushion for the family so they can just focus on caring for Tonya when she returns home. “Sadly, this family is not immune to tragedy,” says Capt. Bushby. “They now seriously need our help.”
“We hope that those who know Tonya, Ron, their parents and children will recognize and reciprocate the generosity that the Roysum family has freely given for decades, without any thought of reward or recognition. For those out of the area, we hope that fellow first responders, FFA members, friends of 4-H, and fairground celebrants across the country will support a fellow responder at a time when the last thing families should be worrying about is paying accounts,” notes Dana Froneberger, GoFundMe coordinator.
“Tonya has one of the biggest hearts I know,” says Tonya’s dear friend Brenda Hodges. “His constant, unconditional generosity and hospitality towards others comes in many forms: true and ongoing support stemming from his impeccable, compassionate empathy and love.”
“Even if you don’t know Tonya personally, know that her heart and hands support countless youth and organizations in Mendocino County. We know that when she gets over it, she’ll be back. This is Tonya. She doesn’t just talk the talk. She follows the path,” concludes Seward.
To support Roysum’s GoFundMe, visit https://www.gofundme.com/start/medical-fundraising and enter “Roysum” in the search bar.