When Christmas is interrupted by medical expenses and a lack of transportation, it almost seems like Santa is not going to be making the rounds this year.
Russ Begay and Cherisse McDonald have been in a perpetual loop in and out of the hospital for more than a year. McDonald, who is 27 and has a heart condition that has baffled doctors, has had two heart attacks and open-heart surgery.
Their youngest son, Cassius -- named after Cassius Clay -- also recently had a kidney transplant. But just like his namesake, little Cassius is a fighter.
“And the doctor visits and appointments are just out of this world [financially],” Begay said.
For some time, the family of five didn’t know how Christmas was coming, considering the economic toll.
Christmas came a couple weeks early on Thursday when the West Jordan family was presented with a completely restored 2004 Toyota Avalon, Christmas gifts for the four kids, a few thousand dollars for insurance and Christmas spending money.
The presentation took place in Orem, and was courtesy of Bear River Mutual Insurance, Martins Collision Repair and other area sponsors.
“When they came today [to Martins Collision Repair], they didn’t know they were getting a car,” said Don Edmunds with Bear River Mutual Insurance.
The insurance agency has been working with Martins Collision Repair to give away cars for people in similar situations for about six years. The agency identifies a family in need in the area, and the repair shop fixes up a car for them.
As far as Begay and McDonald knew, they were finalists in a contest for a few Christmas presents. The two had no idea their new family car was awaiting them, all wrapped up in a neat little bow.
“All I could say was these guys got us right from the start,” Begay said with a laugh. “I couldn’t hold the tears back.”
“We just try to do things like this where we can make a difference,” Edmunds said. “All of our employees and fundraising projects go to helping a family.”
Sergio Martins, co-owner of Martins Collision Repair, said the car the family received was in a pretty nasty fender bender a while ago, but was still deemed safe enough to drive.
But the cars the shop repairs for donation are never in such poor condition that safety is compromised, he said.
“It was in pretty good condition,” Martins said. “A lot of times, we not only try to fix the damage that was on the car to begin with, but also a lot of the little cosmetics or things that we’ve seen ... dents, scratches, stuff like that.”
The before and after pictures of the car the family received almost look like an advertisement for a too-good-to-be-true diet plan or beauty kit, but for cars, of course.
Martins said a few dozen of his employees voluntarily logged more than 150 hours buffing scratches, replacing the tires, filling the car with proper fluids and making it shine like a star.
When Begay saw the car, he was floored and speechless at the charity rendered to he and his family.
“I couldn’t believe it; I couldn’t believe that people do things like this,” he said.
Edmunds said he, Martins Collision Repair and the other donors were glad they could help a family have a happy holiday season when things felt the bleakest.
“This was just a great event where a lot of employees from a number of vendors and companies got a chance to say ‘Merry Christmas,” he said.
“These guys are probably some of the most beautiful people on the face of the earth,” Begay said.
“They’re our guardian angels,” McDonald added.
We would like to thank Herald Media for reprint permission.