Community Raises $135,000 for 'Elephant Man'

Every once in a while a person comes along and touches people in such a way that they just want to reach out and help him. For a community in the suburbs of Seattle, that man is James O'Neal.

The 46-year-old, who compares himself to John Hurt's character in the 1980 film, "The Elephant Man," has neurofibromatosis. It's a genetic disorder that has left his face horribly deformed.

But, instead of staying out of the public eye — O'Neal has flourished in his local community, working as a supervisor at a local supermarket where he lives in Woodinville, Wash., reported.

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Now, the community has rallied behind him to raise money for a series of surgeries to remove the tumors from his face.

Since an official fundraising campaign was launched in May, the community has donated more than $135,000, according to the report.

"I've never had that kind of support before," O'Neal told "I'm overwhelmed. I didn't think it would be this quick."

Richard Holstein, owner of a courier service in western Washington, learned about O'Neal through a friend and offered to donate his services.

"For me, you look at the guy, and he's just out there working," Holstein told the news agency. "He's got a great attitude. How can you not just join up with this guy?"

Neurofibromatosis is a disorder that causes benign tumors to grow on nerve cells and produce other abnormalities such as skin changes and bone deformities. For O'Neal, these tumors have formed a mass on the left side of his face.

Although it was once believed that Joseph Carey Merrick, the subject of the 1980 film, also suffered from neurofibromatosis, he actually suffered from Proteus syndrome, a congenital disorder that causes skin overgrowth and atypical bone development, often accompanied by tumors over half the body.

"He's a very striking individual," Dr. Peter Neligan, director of the Center for Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center, told ABC. "The least I can do is join in to the community effort and donate my services. He's quite pumped about the idea of having surgery."

O'Neal will undergo the first of two operations in November to preserve the function of his nose, mouth, ears and his remaining eye, according to the report.

The surgery may not be 100 percent successful, Neligan told ABC, but there will be a significant improvement in his appearance, he added.

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