Mike “qik1” Iarossi was battling stabbing stomach pains when some of the people hanging out in his Twitch stream’s chat demanded he stop and go to the hospital.
Iarossi waved their concerns off. He didn’t have insurance, and he didn’t want to get caught in a bad financial situation. They pressured him, reiterating that he looked awful. His sickness was getting worse, and he knew it. He tried to seek treatment earlier, he told them, but was turned away from the free clinic where he often went to treat his diabetic needs. It would be more than a week before a general practitioner could see him, according to a nurse at the clinic, and Iarossi was prepared to wait it out, even with debilitating pain. His viewers couldn’t understand it, but Iarossi was adamant about financial concerns.
“Going a hospital isn’t an easy decision to make,” Iarossi tells Polygon. “I worry about how is this going to get paid for. There are many unknowns that go along with it. Maybe I can get coverage, but that’s not a guarantee.”
Iarossi, unable to play and stream because of overwhelming pain, was willing to wait. His community wasn’t.
“I’ve been streaming for seven years, so some of the people that come to my stream I have just known for years,” Iarossi says. “Graham, who lives in northern Ireland, said, ‘Look, I’m going to a start a GoFundMe,’ and another guy in the stream was like, ‘You need to go to the ER right now, and we’ll take care of everything else.” I started getting really emotional. I’m like, ‘I don’t really deserve this. You guys are going beyond what I think I deserve. If you guys are really serious, then I’m going to go to the ER right now; I’ll call my friend and have him take me over there. I’ll do this.’ And that’s what they did.
“I basically shut the screen down, said thanks and went to the ER.”
Iarossi sat in the ER waiting room for only 20 minutes before nurses and doctors started running tests. He was nauseous, and couldn’t eat or drink. His stomach was swollen and distended. Doctors diagnosed Iarossi with a kidney infection, discovered a staph infection in his blood and found pneumonia, but couldn’t figure out how to treat his ongoing stomach pains. He lost more than 10 pounds in less than a week, and doctors were worried about that aspect of Iarossi’s health, too.
“I was in such bad shape,” Iarossi says. “My blood sugar was through the roof. I was so weak, I couldn’t do anything. Any kind of action, even just sitting up, takes all my energy because I hadn’t eaten anything and they really haven’t resolved that yet. They would bring food and it’s like I can’t eat. It ended up that my stomach was full of gas — it was like a rock. It took another two days before we really resolved that and figured out what was going on so that I could start eating.”
It was difficult to Iarossi to think about finances while he was in the hospital, where he remained for a week, but it never slipped his mind.
“I decided if those guys are going to do something for me, I need to help try and get the word out,” Iarossi says. “I put a post on my Facebook saying, ‘This is what’s going on with me. I’m in the hospital. Some friends started a GoFundMe for me and here it is.’ I went and I looked, and there was $1,600 in there already. One person from my stream sent me $1,000. It was one of the two people who were there at the start. Another viewer sent $300, and I’m getting personal donations into my PayPal. I have no words for what they’re doing. It’s so overwhelming how above and beyond these people that come to my stream are going for me.”
The GoFundMe page, which is still active, is full of Iarossi’s fans, pledging their donations and wishing him well. The pledge’s description reads that “if you are a gamer, help a gamer.” Graham, the man who set up the page, is a long-time fan of Iarossi, but the two have never met. Iarossi describes them as similar, saying, “He’s s an older guy like I am,” but never thought anyone would ever do this for him.
“I’m thinking, ‘I think he’s on my Facebook,’” Iarossi says. “I’ve known him for a number of years through the stream, and he comes into my discord, but that’s the most interaction we’ve had. I’ve never met him.”
Viewers like Graham — who Iarossi considers friends — help the streamer view his community a little differently now. Iarossi is still going for treatments at a local hospital in Akron, Ohio — hometown of the new Los Angeles Lakers star, LeBron James — but he feels more supported than ever thanks to his community. Iarossi said he still gets emotional when he thinks about the community he’s built, and how thankful he is for them.
“I tell them how grateful I am a lot more now,” Iarossi says. “Obviously they don’t want me to look at them differently and I know that. I just try to continue doing what I’m doing and be grateful for what happened and what I have, because I have a lot. That’s probably the best thing that I can do. And just say thanks.”