Bee tattoos helping family of Baby Isabelle

GLOVERSVILLE – Isabelle Sherman was alive for less than a year, but she touched the hearts of many.

After a 10-month battle with mitochondrial disease – a disease that affected her organs – Isabelle “Baby Izzy” Elaine Sherman of Gloversville died March 6.

During her struggle to survive, people from Gloversville and other areas got to know Baby Izzy and offered their support along the way.

After succumbing to the illness, her family was left owing thousands of dollars in medical bills.

A local tattoo artist is trying to help.

Russell Gomula, who has a shop called Addictive Pain Tattoo at 43 Cayadutta St., has been raising money for nearly two weeks and already has collected about $1,800, said Gomula.

People who want to donate can get a tattoo of a bee symbol, about the size of a quarter, for $35. All proceeds are going to the Sherman family.

He chose the bee symbol because the baby’s nickname was “Izzy Bee” and shirts recognizing her had the symbol on them.

“With all the bad stuff going on in the world, it’s actually nice to see the community come together to show support to someone in need,” Gomula said. “It actually gives me hope that there are still good people left in this world.”

Gomula said his girlfriend had worked at Walmart and Isabelle’s mother would come in the store with Izzy.

“When she passed away, my girlfriend was pretty crushed by it,” Gomula said.

“She was just really sad and [it] just made me want to help,” he said.

People supporting the family are part of “Team Izzy,” said the baby’s mother, Stephanie Sherman.

“Team Izzy is absolutely amazing,” she said. “The support from strangers and friends has been amazing; there is never a day that we don’t receive a card in the mail.”

Isabelle was born April 16, 2012, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, and her last moments were spent at her home in Gloversville surrounded by her loving family.

“We are doing the best we can, I guess, taking it one day at a time and trying to work through it,” Stephanie Sherman said. “Most days, it still does not feel real, but it is. My children are having a very hard time because she passed here at home; they have been asking to move.”

A Facebook page called “Help Isabelle Grow” garnered almost 60,000 followers as it chronicled Izzy’s fight with the disease and her multiple hospital stays. Team Izzy members provided support, donations, prayers, gifts and kind words for the family.

At first, the baby’s illness puzzled doctors at Albany Medical Center Hospital. Instead of growing like a typical baby, Isabelle was losing weight.

Isabelle was diagnosed with a number of medical problems, including severe gastroesophageal reflux disease, reactive airway disease, scoliosis and failure to thrive, but none of these diagnoses could explain why she was still the size of a newborn after several months.

After a muscle and skin biopsy, doctors diagnosed Isabelle with mitochondrial complex one deficiency, a disease that affects every organ in the body. It caused the baby’s stomach to leak bacteria and fungus into her bloodstream, Stephanie Sherman said.

She said because of the financial strain, the family lives in a small apartment and a large room where Izzy’s crib was located.

“My 2-year-old is still looking for her,” Stephanie Sherman said. “It is heartbreaking, but I know in time things will get better, but she will always be missed.”

The baby had two surgeries in the first month of her life and had to be fed through a feeding tube. When Isabelle was admitted to Albany Medical Center on Sept. 20, she was only 7 pounds, 14.5 ounces.

“Izzy could always get better just as fast as she would get sick,” Stephanie Sherman said. “In her last few weeks, there were many nights that I sat up with her all night thinking that she would not make it till morning, and then she would perk up.”

Sherman said she couldn’t work because she had to care for Isabelle. Her husband, Kenneth Sherman, lost his job because he was missing work to be with their daughter when she was going in and out of hospitals.

The trips back and forth between Gloversville and Albany and other medical costs put the family in debt, Stephanie Sherman said.

She said Faith’s Hope Foundation, a California-based organization, helped the family by paying back rent.

Sherman said the family received about $17,000 in donations to pay for outstanding medical expenses, but the family is still about $10,000 in debt.

Gomula said when he was younger, his cousin was diagnosed with leukemia and received help from the Make a Wish Foundation. This played a role in his decision to help the Sherman family.

He said people interested in getting the tattoo – available in pink and black or yellow and black – can stop by his shop. Because of the good turnout so far, he’s keeping the fundraiser going longer than he expected.

“I know it will only be a small dent in the bills the family has, but it’s a dent I’m prepared to make,” he said. “Without a doubt, every last person who wants a bee tattoo will receive one.”