Alexis Shapiro

A 12-year-old Texas girl who became morbidly obese after a rare illness triggered by brain surgery could get a potentially life-saving operation by February, thanks to a flood of donations from strangers.

More than 1,200 people have contributed more than $53,000 to a fund for Alexis Shapiro, of Cibolo, Texas, who weighs nearly 200 pounds and is gaining about 2 pounds a week because of a runaway condition called hypothalamic obesity.

That’s in addition to at least four anonymous philanthropists who have stepped forward to help. The response started within hours after NBC News first reported the story on Saturday.

“My goodness! It’s crazy,” said Jenny Shapiro, Alexis’ mother, who added that her family has been surprised and touched by the generosity. “Alexis really likes it. I think she feels like people aren’t looking at her anymore and people are rooting for her.”

Doctors say gastric bypass weight-loss surgery is the only thing that can help Alexis, but the U.S. military, which provides her family’s health insurance, says it won’t pay for the operation because Alexis is too young.

TRICARE and Humana Military, which provide family insurance for Alexis’ father, Air Force veteran Ian Shapiro, denied the request citing rules that say gastric bypass surgery may be covered, but only if the patient is 18 or has achieved full bone growth. Officials said the family could appeal the decision.

But Alexis’ parents — and doctors — say that an appeal could take too long and that there would be no guarantee the child would be approved for the $50,000 operation. Ian Shapiro, 34, is claims representative for USAA, a banking and insurance provider. Jenny Shapiro, 34, works part-time as a dog groomer at PetSmart.

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