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GoFundMe support stuns Superior couple

James “Jimmy” Lamoreaux holds his 6-month-old son, Liam, with his wife, Karena, at their home in Superior’s Allouez neighborhood Tuesday. The Superior man is having reconstructive surgery on the burn scars on his neck and right hand to increase his mobility. Donations to a GoFundMe site will help the family make ends meet while he recovers. Maria Lockwood

The "Jimmy’s Surgery" GoFundMe site offers a peek into one Superior man’s life.

When Melissa Riedasch launched the online fundraiser last week, she hoped donations would help James Lamoreaux, 22, and his wife Karena make ends meet while he recovers from major reconstructive surgery.

"I met Jimmy many, many years ago and knew he would grow up to be wonderful man, father and husband," Riedash said. "The response from friends, family and the community has only proven how right I was those many years ago."

The site contains messages from former teachers, a nurse who cared for him as a child, family friends and the people who sold the couple their Allouez neighborhood home. One post reads simply, "He’s my coach."

For the young couple, it’s been a heartwarming experience. The morning after the appeal went out, $2,000 had been donated.

"I was like … I seriously had a heart attack," Karena said, cuddling the couple’s 6-month-old son, Liam. "I can’t even believe the support of the community."

Calls rolled in from people asking to host fundraisers for the family, from Younique and 31 parties to a three-day March fundraiser at Applebee’s, their favorite place to eat out.

"Our phone blew up after this GoFundMe," Karena said.

At the age of 3, James sustained severe burns to his face, neck and hands in a house fire. He was dead on arrival at the hospital and was revived. Later, his lungs collapsed and he was again revived. James underwent a flurry of surgeries and skin grafts and spent days in a coma. Medical staff and nurses as well as a kitchen worker who wheeled in the snack cart each day helped him cope.

"Those people really made it 10 times easier to get through anything I was going through," James said. "Having those people around is kind of what made it alright."

Next week, James goes in for surgery to relieve pulling in his neck caused by scar tissue. The lack of mobility makes it hard for him to eat, drink and turn his head. He’ll have scar tissue removed from between the fingers of his right hand at the same time. Although he’s had a handful of small day surgeries over the years, this is the first big medical procedure since he was 5. James expects to be in the hospital for a few days and unable to return to work for at least two months. He is currently an apprentice with Ironworkers Local 512 and has stepped into the foreman role for projects including the Mills Fleet Farm footings and the new Essentia Health parking ramp.

GoFundMe donations — nearly $7,400 within a week — will also help offset medical costs.

One of the most exciting things to come from the online campaign was a reconnection with two elementary school teachers. Jenni Wolfe and Linda Berg, who taught James for three years, did more than donate.

"They went above and beyond and they reached out to Northern Lights Elementary and put out the word there," said James. "We’ve been getting anonymous Northern Lights Elementary donations the last 24 hours."

Firefighters donated, pointing out the 22-year-old’s role coaching through Spartan Youth League Football and wrestling.

"He takes his time to work with our youth in a positive and encouraging way," their post read. "Communities pay it forward. If this money can help this young man do even greater things considering what he has already overcome, then your Superior Firefighter Local 74 will gladly give."

The outpouring of support didn’t shock Bill Gedde, assistant wrestling coach at Superior High School. James was a standout wrestler in high school and a captain his senior year. The 2011 graduate is now the head middle school wrestling coach in Superior.

"It doesn’t surprise me at all because he is such a kind and sincere young man," Gedde said. "He learned the techniques and strategies well and he’s passing those on to his wrestlers."

It was his sense of humor that drew Karena to James.

"He was just always very sweet and funny and knew how to make me laugh, and for me, that’s the No. 1 thing that I look for is somebody who can make me laugh," she said.

They met when she was in fourth grade, he in fifth. In middle school, they dated for nine months, going to the roller rink and movies at the Mariner Mall together. When he was a sophomore and she was a freshman, they reconnected with a phone call.

"I still got butterflies every time I saw him," Karena said, and James found himself getting nervous when she was around. After an hour and a half of talking, they decided to date again. They’ve been together ever since.

The couple was married on Valentine’s Day 2015. Welcoming Liam in August was another milestone.

"I love it," James said of being a dad.

Even though he’s nervous about the upcoming surgery, James and his family are thankful for the emotional and financial boost they’ve received.

"I can’t believe the support of the community," Karena said. "I never imagined."

The Jimmy’s Surgery GoFundMe site will be up until Monday. It can be found online at