It seems like such a noble cause. Raise money for a professional wrestler in need of an expensive surgical procedure.
But when you talk to long-time wrestling fan, Anthony DeBlasi, about his ongoing fundraising efforts for Total Nonstop Wrestling’s Konnan, the tone of his voice is laced with frustration.
“The most stressful and draining thing that I’ve had to do with this is getting emails from people, saying to me ‘I don’t know why a celebrity gets this kind of treatment,'” DeBlasi told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Howard Beach, NY. DeBlasi also oversees the wrestling news website, www.wrestling-news.com.
“Then I got people sending me emails with pictures of their family members who died from a similar situation. I have people emailing me back and say ‘How come he doesn’t have the money?’
“My response is ‘I don’t know.’ The bottom line is do you want to send all this proof that his money is gone, or do you help the guy out in his time of need? The guy needs help and it’s something that needs to be done now.”
To understand more clearly why DeBlasi has such a strong connection to this cause, one needs to look back ten years ago when DeBlasi sustained severe injuries as a result of a car accident.
“I broke my hip, broke my pelvis, shattered my ankle and broke all of my bones in my leg. I was never supposed to walk again. Because of ego and pushing myself, I got out of the wheelchair and, luckily, I’m able to walk today. But I deal with pain every single day.”
The years of rehab and no longer being able to work at his previous career put DeBlasi in financial ruin. But with the support of others, he found the courage to carry on and is now employed in the insurance field.
“There were people who I didn’t even know that wanted to help,” explained DeBlasi of his own down time. “I was a huge ECW fan at that time. My ex, who absolutely despised wrestling, contacted ECW to let them know about me. Next thing I know, I’m getting phone calls from all these wrestlers sending best wishes; Rob Van Dam sent me stuff, Terry Funk sent me stuff. I was a total stranger, someone they didn’t need to do this for and they took the time out for it. From that moment on, wrestling wise, if I could help out someone, and it’s within my boundaries, I’m going to do it.”
The chance would come earlier this year.
Konnan (real name Charles Ashenoff) was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery in Mexico. During the attempted procedure, it was discovered that his kidneys were severely damaged. With dialysis, Konnan was able to have successful hip replacement surgery.
But the damage to his kidneys is so severe that he is now waiting for a kidney transplant.
Only adding to that stress is the fact that Konnan does not have any kind of medical insurance.
“A lot of people asked ‘Why doesn’t he just get medical insurance now and get the surgery?’ I know first hand, if you have a pre-existing condition, you can’t get it. If he had taken out medical insurance six months ago, and then they discovered the kidney situation, he’d be covered.”
Together with fellow wrestling enthusiast and photographer, Georgiann Makropoulos, a world-wide fundraiser drive was initiated to gather the necessary funds to cover the cost of transplant surgery (in Mexico) and recuperation period. The goal: $35,000.
Were Konnan to go through the procedure in the United States, the figure would be anywhere between $80,000 to $100,000.
“If everybody donated a dollar, you’d be surprised how much is raised,” said DeBlasi. “We must’ve had at least a thousand donations of only a dollar. We must’ve had at least another five to six hundred donations of five dollars. We’re getting emails from Australia, Italy, China, Japan, UK, Mexico, with people saying ‘Listen, I can only spare two dollars.’ I answer every email personally, saying ‘That’s fine.'”
Make no mistake; DeBlasi is looking for results, not good intentions. As he explained, a continuing distraction is those who offer support that never materializes, or worse, engage in blatant fraud.
“I think when it comes down to it, a lot of people talk with their hearts before they talk with their minds,” commented DeBlasi.
“There’s been a lot of people who have offered to donate merchandise that we have not received. There’s been a couple of indy groups who were suppose to do shows (to raise proceeds for Konnan); I have yet to hear anything as far as money being sent our way. There was a guy on E-Bay who was trying to sell Konnan T-Shirts for his own profit.”
Thus far, $13,000 has been raised. While that figure may seem a long ways off from DeBlasi’s ultimate goal, he remains positive in continuing to build momentum in raising the necessary funds.
“If this was just a hip replacement, I don’t think we would have raised half of the money we raised,” said DeBlasi, adding his praise to everyone within the wrestling community who has contributed.
“I never expected to generate as much money as we have. I feel like we haven’t even touched the surface yet. I never expected the response the wrestling community has given towards this man. I’m humbled by it. Never in a million years would I have ever expected this.”
DeBlasi stays in regular contact with Konnan, who has recently reappeared in TNA alongside his LAX tag team. In doing so, he has penetrated the bigger-than-life persona that wrestling fans are accustomed to seeing on television. Instead, DeBlasi sees something more simple — a person in need.
“The more I talk to him, the more human he gets. His spirits are high, he’s really confident everything is going to work out,” DeBlasi said. “When we started the drive, I don’t think he realized the outpouring of love and support he was going to get.”
Corey David Lacroix is very grateful for living in a country with a free, universal health care system and will never complain about waiting to see a doctor.