Outpouring of support wows tree salesman

A Christmas tree salesman on the brink of losing two jobs because of a severe cataract will see clearly soon, thanks to a Medford surgeon and donations from the community.

Marc Botello, 42, an employee at Peco Pines in Medford and Caveman Fence in Grants Pass, had lost vision in his right eye because of the cataract, and his left eye is being threatened by an unknown type of deterioration.

Botello's holiday boss, Peco Pines owner Bill Lambert, posted fliers at his eight tree lots arcross the Rogue Valley in hopes of helping Botello get the money he needs to have cataract surgery.

Residents responded with cards and donations totaling nearly $2,000, and three local surgeons offered to help.

"I never imagined this kind of response," Botello said. "It's the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me."

The cataract surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Philip Paden at the Medford Eye Center, will allow Botello not only to keep his two jobs but continue to care for his mother and for Heidi, a stray border collie he took in last Christmas.

"I can't believe it. I'm going in for my surgery on Jan. 11," Botello said after an exam on Monday.

Paden said his employees felt strongly about helping Botello.

"My employees saw the article in the newspaper and everybody felt like it was Christmas and here it was in the newspaper that somebody needed exactly what we know how to provide," Paden said.

"My employees' enthusiasm was contagious so I said, 'All right, let me go talk to him.' "

Paden said Botello's cataract is one of the worst he's seen in more than 11,000 cataract surgeries.

"Cataracts almost never get to this point," Paden said. "We see two or three cataracts each year out of hundreds and hundreds that we do that are this bad."

The replacement lens and anesthesiology may also be donated, depending on costs and other factors, Paden said. All told, cataract surgery can cost up to $2,500 for uninsured patients such as Botello.

Lambert, whose family has run the Christmas tree lots for three decades, said response to Botello's story restored his faith in Christmas.

"I just couldn't believe how generous people are," Lambert said. "I hope people realize that Christmas is more than just religion. It's us human beings and doing what we can to help each other.

"Just him getting the money for his eyes was a fantastic Christmas for me and anyone else who knew about it."

After any miscellaneous surgery expenses, Botello said he would use donated funds to cover expenses related to missed work before and after the surgery and set aside any leftovers to fix his left eye, which will eventually need surgery.

He also plans to take care of Heidi, who captured readers' hearts in a story and photo of Botello in a newspaper story.

"You could tell a lot of people who sent letters and came by were pet owners and they read the story because of Heidi," Botello said.

"I plan to take her and get her cleaned up and get her to the vet for an exam, get her tags and whatnot. I couldn't afford to do that before, but I feel like my luck really changed and part of it was because of her."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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