From rising healthcare costs to high deductible insurance policies to unforeseen accidents or illnesses, many people are left with medical bills they can't afford to pay.
In the past, some in need have turned to bake sales and car washes to help raise funds. These days, all you need is a computer and a little kindness from strangers.
Born with a rare genetic disorder, little Madden needs multiple surgeries just to stay alive. The costs are overwhelming for his family.
"ER visits, medication, he's on a special formula," said Madden's mother, Mandy Sheridan.
Madden's mother is not the only one facing tough calls when it comes to medical costs. Health care expenses in the US continue to rise, according to a recent study by the Health Care Cost Institute. And even those with insurance are often strapped with high deductible plans and out of pocket expenses.
"In 2011 we watched out of pocket spending rise for the commercially insured by 4.6 percent. Those would be things that are like over the counter drugs and medical devices that weren't prescribed," explained Carolina Herrera from the Health Care Cost Institute.
Now thousands are getting help online. Their stories shared on crowdfunding websites where friends, family and even strangers pitch in.
"It was so exciting…the first donation that came in, and then by the end of the day there were so many. It was inspiring."
Crowdfunding has been used in recent years, mostly to finance creative startup projects, such as video games or movies. Now experts say it's exploding in the nonprofit sector as well.
Brad Damphousse is the co-founder and CEO of GoFundMe, one of several online fundraising sites.
He says last year people raised more than eight million dollars for medical causes on GoFundMe alone.
"Our medical, illness and healing category is the most popular area of usage," said Brad Damphousse, co-founder and CEO of GoFundMe.com.
Suzanne Revell started her campaign after a gymnastics injury left her needing a wheelchair that her insurance company refused to cover.
"If I'm going to have to pay for the chair out of pocket, then maybe I could get friends and family members to help donate," said Crowdfunding participant, Suzanne Revell.
She was shocked by the response, not only from friends and family, but strangers, raising more than eight-thousand dollars in just a week.
Anyone can set up a campaign for free. Just write up your story, add photos or video, then send out the link to your social media contacts.
"As a campaign grows in popularity, other people begin to show their support," said Damphousse.
The money is collected through the websites, which take a small cut per transaction. In addition to donations, people can leave messages of support.
"To see all the words of encouragement, that was the biggest part of it. It wasn't just the financial part," explained Sheridan.
While the sites have systems in place to prevent fraud, it's still possible for scammers to slip through the cracks. Damphouse recommends you donate only to registered charities and to friends or friends of friends.
More than $11,000 has been raised for Madden so far. His mom says she can't wait to tell him the story someday.
"I will tell him that strangers came together and helped save his life," said Sheridan.
Unlike other crowdfunding websites - where you have to meet your monetary goal before the project is funded and you get your money - with cause related crowdfunding the money is available for immediate use - even if you don't reach your goal.
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