Donor steps in to keep power on for paralyzed boy

St. Johns County family had been battling utility over power that keeps son alive

HASTINGS, Fla. – The parents of a 9-year-old boy in Hastings say their electricity is about to be cut — and it's a matter of life and death for their son.

But thanks to an anonymous donor, their fears have turned to joy.

Two years ago, Jesse Stratton was injured when he fell from a pool slide, hit his head and ended up unconscious in the water. He survived the near-drowning but was left with brain damage and was rendered a quadriplegic.

Now, Stratton's family is having a hard time making ends meet.

Stratton's father is a farm worker, and his parents haven't been able to keep up with the electric bill. Florida Power & Light Company has told them the electricity will be shut off Thursday.

Stratton has been at Wolfson Children's Hospital for a routine checkup the last few weeks, but his family said he's supposed to come home this week, and he needs the electricity to power his equipment — or he could die.

But minutes after the Strattons' story aired on Channel 4 Monday evening, a man contacted the station offering to pay the bill.

Alicia Stratton fought back tears as she spoke on the phone to a man she's never met, a man who reached out, wanting to help her family in a time of need.

"Knowing that we'll have power to take him home to is awesome," Alicia Stratton said. "Kind of panicking, so it's good not to panic for a few minutes."

Alicia Stratton said the day her son fell in the pool she performed CPR on him until help arrived, but because he was underwater for as long as he was, he suffered severe brain damage and is now completely paralyzed.

At one point, his parents said they made the decision to take Jesse off life support and say goodbye.

"The ventilator became disconnected and this alarm was going off, and I had no idea what this was and finally a nurse came in, and (said), 'Oh the ventilator was disconnected, and he did pretty good.' He was breathing on his own, so then it wasn't an option. There was no choice after that," Alicia Stratton said. "He's obviously supposed to be here."

St. Vincent De Paul, a nonprofit organization, had offered to help pay in increments the Strattons' overdue electric bills, which total a little less than $2,000, but Leslie Massucco, a volunteer with the organization, said FPL wants all the money at once or nothing, and she said that's unacceptable.

"They're a strong Christian family with a lot of faith and a lot of love," Massucco said. "And you want good things to happen to good people, and these are really good people. And I just think that people need to step out of their corporate doors and go out and come down themselves and see what's going on before they decide that life or death is in their hands and they're choosing not to choose life."

But now, thanks to an anonymous donor, that bill will be covered. The Strattons are making plans with him to go to the FPL office to take care of the bill.

"We thank him from the bottom of our hearts for sure, absolutely," Alicia Stratton said.

She said her goal is to get a nursing degree so she can become a full-time licensed practical nurse for her son and earn income, but for now, she said it's a matter of surviving.

"He's absolutely still in there," Alicia Stratton said of Jesse. "He can't talk to us, but he has his way of communicating things. As time progresses, he's gaining more control of his voice and some of his physical movements. He's tracking things with his eyes, which he couldn't for a long time there. Slowly but surely."

Florida Power & Light Company spokeswoman Heather Kirkendall released this statement to Channel 4 regarding the situation with the Strattons:

"We care very much about the well-being of our customers and are glad to be able to offer special considerations. In this case, we've been working closely with the Stratton family to get them help. We understand that customers in our Medically Essential Service program depend on us for uninterrupted electric service, and we take this very seriously. We can assure you that we would never put a person's life at risk."

The statement also explained that regulated utilities, including FPL, are required to treat customers fairly and equally, and in accordance with the utility's rules and regulations, under the Tariff and Florida law. That means customers are responsible for paying for the electricity they use.

"We understand there are special circumstances that make that responsibility very difficult for some customers," the statement read. "That is why there are financial assistance programs in place to help those that need it most. In cases such as these, we work with social service agencies to further assist customers. Disconnection of service is a last resort, and we go to great lengths to avoid it, as we continue to do in this case."