A Chattanooga businessman has arranged a weekend fundraiser for Andrew Ellis, the rising third-grader who survived the wrath of a 190-mph tornado.
Bill Lehmkuhl, agency owner of Farmers Insurance Group on Lee Highway, said he would host a six-hour fundraiser at his business Saturday to put a dent in Andrew's six-figure medical bills.
Andrew, 8, lost his half-brother, cousin, grandmother and great-grandmother on April 27 when tornadoes and thunderstorms blew through Tennessee and Georgia, killing 77 in the Chattanooga area.
"That this kid survived is an absolute God-given miracle," Lehmkuhl said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I mean, holy cow."
Last week, Andrew told the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the day he'll never forget.
As storms approached the Apison mobile home where his family was staying, Andrew's grandmother, Brenda Prescott, 56, hurried the boy to a bathtub and lay atop him, but she "flew off" as the twister came through, he said.
The howling wind sent Andrew airborne for a moment before he hit his head, broke his left femur and scraped his skin against the hard earth. He spent two weeks at Erlanger's intensive care unit.
Part of Andrew's Erlanger stay cost $145,000, according to his mother, Wendy Ellis. One antibiotic he needs costs between $600 and $800 per month, she said, and she hasn't received an invoice from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where the boy is rehabilitating for the third straight week.
"I will pay them to the best of my ability," said Ellis, who works as a placement specialist at Elwood Staffing in Chattanooga. "It's priceless. You can't put a price on having Andrew here."
Andrew isn't covered by his mother's workplace insurance.
The family is seeking help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Medicaid.
"We're at that barrier right now," Ellis said.
Lehmkuhl read about the boy's struggles in the newspaper. The next day, he contacted Ellis, who walked him and his wife through the Apison wreckage Tuesday night.
"I saw pieces of a refrigerator embedded into a tree," Lehmkuhl said. "It is unbelievable, some of the things I saw."
Lehmkuhl said he's lining up an autographed baseball from the Chattanooga Lookouts and other surprises for Andrew. He said the fundraiser will include hot dogs, hamburgers and "a big pot for donations."
The fundraiser concludes during a public homecoming party at Andrew's house in Rossville, so Lehmkuhl said he'll bring the donations to the family Saturday evening.
"If people want to come meet Andrew, they certainly can," Ellis said. "His homecoming is bittersweet. He's coming home to an empty house."
Contact Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610.