This Club assists farm children and their families The year 1928 was many things to many people. But to one small Midwestern farm boy, it meant a chance at a normal life.

The boy had been left unable to walk after polio ravaged his limbs. Polio was, at that time, in epidemic proportions. His farming parents, already in debt, didn't have the funds to get him needed help. So the father called on his regional farm magazine, The Farmer, for advice.

The magazine did more than advise the family. It ran a story on the boy's plight, asking readers to give a "helping hand."

Within three weeks, readers' pennies, dimes and dollars totaled over $4,000. Since the boy's needs only totaled $400 for hospital care and leg braces, the extra funds were used to launch the Helping Hand Club.

As a result of that fund, Helping Hand Club has aided 695 other farm children and their families. The 72-year-old Club helps pay hospital bills for children whose parents are active farmers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is supported by reader contributions and bequest funds, with administration costs paid by Soybean Digest.

From November 1999 through October 2000, Helping Hand paid $5,035.01 in hospital bills for three farm children. By negotiating with hospitals for discounts and reduced bills, the Club was able to save $225.23. Reader contributions totaled $4,329.75.

Because those contributions were short the $705.26 needed to pay these hospital bills, Helping Hand took the difference from held-over bequest funds.

Circumstances and hospitalization costs of the children helped are as follows. Only first names were used to protect family privacy. Complete need and expense records are on file at Soybean Digest.

- A feverish four-year-old, Alexis was twice in one day diagnosed incorrectly as having an ear infection. The next day her pediatrician discovered that she had a bacterial infection in her bloodstream and needed immediate hospitalization. Hospitalized for three days, Alexis continued to run high temperatures, requiring IV antibiotics to fight the infection. After the insurance payment, Helping Hand paid the balance due of $880.72.

- Nicole, five years old, fell ill with a serious bacterial infection of her kidneys and urinary tract. To save money, her parents drove to the city hospital twice daily for outpatient administration of her IV antibiotic therapy. After insurance and family payments, Helping Hand stepped in and paid the balance due of $127.50.

- Logan's hospital birth charge was $747.60. In less than 24 hours after his discharge, he developed conjunctivitis, a rare eye infection. He was hospitalized and treated with IV antibiotics. The balance due: $1,770.28. At nearly one month old, Logan was again hospitalized with an infection that led to bronchitis and respiratory distress. The balance due after insurance payments: $1,734.14. Logan's parents owed a total of $4,252.02 on his three hospital bills. After a hospital discount of $225.23, the Club paid the $4,026.79 balance.

Delicate heart surgery will be performed on a two-month-old baby girl this month. At birth, three chambers of her heart were unformed, but surgery could not be done until she was two months old. This will be the first of many surgeries needed. Helping Hand is waiting to hear the date of surgery and will help this farm family as soon as it knows the total post-insurance hospital cost. The hospital bill is expected to be high.

Do you know of farm families in similar situations? If they're hard-pressed to pay the hospital bills of their youngsters, please write to us. Farm children 18 years and younger are eligible.

To contribute, send your tax-deductible donations (or the names of families needing assistance) to: The Helping Hand Club, Webb Foundation, 7900 International Drive, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425.