Helping to Save a Home and Carter

Amanda St. Clair took a leave from work to care for her son Carter, who has leukemia. She feared the family would lose their home, but a life-changing bond with Cindy Hunting of Wells Fargo made all the difference.
Feb 6, 2020 10:25 AM ET
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When the doctors said their son Carter had leukemia, Amanda St. Clair and her husband feared for the future of their beloved 4-year-old, the family’s life together, and their home itself.

“We had our dream house, our dream life,” said St. Clair, 40, a public school teacher who lives in rural Auburn Township, near Cleveland, Ohio. “We’d only been here three years when Carter got sick. I knew we needed help, but I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

Weeks later, however, St. Clair experienced a life-changing connection with Cindy Hunting, a customer care specialist for Wells Fargo Home Lending. A mother of two young children herself, Hunting worked tirelessly to help St. Clair, who was taking a year leave from work to care for Carter during his chemotherapy and round-the-clock hospital care.

On her husband’s salary alone, St. Clair knew the family could not afford their mortgage payment and they could lose their home, she said. Then, one day, Hunting called with news.

“She said, ‘I’m working on something that I think will work for you,’” St. Clair recalled. “I just began to cry and she did too. I mean, she was so empathetic, so human with me. She handled everything and she was amazing every step of the way. I can’t thank her enough.”

More than a year later, Carter is now back home, in remission, rambunctious again, and on a home-based chemo maintenance program, according to St. Clair. She said the family is grateful for the mortgage relief Wells Fargo and its partners provided to help the family during a crisis.

For Hunting, the experience became a memorable milestone in her life and career. She navigated the options, advocated for the family, worked with managers on a proposal, and helped gain approval from the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), which owns the loan that Wells Fargo services.

The result: The family didn’t have to make any mortgage payments for a year — a forbearance or pause in payment that would be made up by adding a year at the end of the loan’s term. Also, the arrangement would not impact the family’s otherwise unblemished credit. For all practical purposes, the relief they received was akin to that of victims of hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters.

“It took a lot of heart for Wells Fargo and its partners to understand what this family was going through,” Hunting said. “There was not a single person along the way who questioned whether we should do this or not. Everyone was on board. Everyone had the feeling, ‘We’ve got to make this work."

Prepared and trained for such moments

Whether homeowners are facing life-threatening illnesses or other financial hardships, they should always reach out to their bank for assistance, especially about their mortgage, said Mary Mack, head of Consumer Banking. Banks are willing to work with customers, even if the solutions may not always be perfect, she said.

“As the St. Clairs’ experience shows, we have team members like Cindy Hunting who are prepared and trained to respond in those moments of need,” Mack said. “The sooner we know about a customer’s adversity, the sooner we can try to find a financial solution that helps them get through it successfully.”

Too often, when mortgage trouble appears on the horizon because of illness or other hardships, people put off making that call to their lender, consumer advocates say.

The best course of action, however, is to “contact your lender as soon as you realize you have a problem and respond to all mail from your lender,” according to mortgagecalculator.org, a nonprofit site. It provides a wealth of information on how people can work with their bank to avoid problems and move forward in their lives. Wells Fargo also details a series of resources for homeowners with payment challenges.

Bravery of ‘a little superhero’

St. Clair said she can focus on moving forward now that she has hope the worst has passed for Carter. With his cancer in remission, he can live life almost like any other child — except for the at-home intravenous chemo regimen and spinal chemo treatment every three months.

“It was sort of heartbreaking for us as parents, but Carter’s so brave now, it’s nothing for him,” St. Clair said. “He has a port for the chemo and every time he goes in for the treatment, he feels like he’s just a little superhero or something.”

Last spring, St. Clair made a surprise call to Hunting to tell her again how much the family appreciated all that Hunting had done.

“When you hear something like that, you realize how much impact we can really have on people’s lives,” Hunting said. “It instills in me a renewed sense that this is why I do what I do every day.”