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Family hosts benefit for victims of hoax

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Though they’d never met before, long hugs, tears and some laughter made it more like a family reunion when the Thompsons of Watertown, the Dotys of Washington state and other supporters moved by their story gathered Saturday at a fundraiser to benefit the Dotys’ Heal Thomas Foundation.

The Thompsons became unwittingly connected with the Doty family when a hoaxer harvested the Watertown family’s Facebook images and used them to perpetrate a cruel con against the Dotys. The Thompsons believe that a Harrisville woman, Marci A. Rose, used the photos to escalate her relationship with Johnathan Hillstrand, a star of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” and Doty family friend, promising a large donation to the Doty family. The hoax caused Thomas O. Doty, 19, to delay cancer treatments for several weeks. He lost his battle with osteosarcoma in December.

After learning about the hoax and the Dotys’ financial struggle, as well as their desire to start a foundation to help others seeking treatment not covered by insurance, Ruth Thompson Shear began organizing the benefit at Watertown Eagles Aerie 782.

“We had to make something positive out of something negative,” Mrs. Shear said. “All the support we’ve gotten for the benefit, that shows we’re good people in this area. It’s helped bring some peace.”

Members of Thomas Doty’s family traveled from Washington for the event thanks to the donation of plane tickets by Chris Sausaman, Fredonia. Mr. Sausaman also was a stranger before Thomas’s illness and the hoax.

When the hoax story made national news last summer, Mr. Sausaman sent a donation to the family. At the time, Thomas was fighting for his life. He returned from treatment and Mr. Sausaman sent an iPad as a gift.

When Thomas died in December, Mr. Sausaman stayed in touch with the Dotys, offering to fly them to Watertown when he learned of the fundraiser.

Thomas’s mother, Tiffany, said she had hoped to come to the benefit, but finances most likely would have prevented it. Mr. Sausaman’s gift made it possible.

Still grieving the loss of Thomas, the Dotys boarded a plane.

“How could we not be here when people are here for us? People are coming together to heal,” Mrs. Doty said.

She, along with Thomas’s grandmother Linda Oliver and girlfriend, Rayne Johnson, landed Friday evening. They stayed up until 3 a.m. at their Watertown hotel visiting with Mr. Sausaman. “We did a lot of crying and laughing,” he said.

Mr. Sausaman said he’s been asked often why he would pay for plane tickets for virtual strangers. “They ask why, and I ask them, ‘Why not?’ You don’t have to know someone to support them,” he said.

“When I first learned about Thomas, I didn’t know why it weighed so heavy on my heart,” Mr. Sausaman said. “Now I know why God gave me this. Thomas is already doing good things in his afterlife by bringing people together.”

For more information about the foundation or to make a donation, visit www.healthomas.com.

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