United States President Barack Obama reacts as Joey Hudy of Phoenix, Arizona, launches a marshmallow from his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon in the State Dining Room of the White House during the second White House Science Fair in Washington.

Washington - When Joey Hudy went to the White House in 2012, the 8th grade science whiz captivated President Barack Obama - and the world - with his large, orange marshmallow cannon.

He and Obama primed the homemade contraption and then blasted its sugary ammo across the room, much to the dismay of the Secret Service.

"Ohhh," Obama yelled, before retrieving the marshmallow and Hudy's business card, "just in case."

It made for a memorial moment, an Obama administration's favourite, and put Hudy, then 14, into the national spotlight. He became a celebrity Maker, a jet-setting inventor of 3-D body scanners and solar-powered computers, a promoter of STEM programs and the youngest ever corporate intern at Intel.

In 2015, he returned to the White House as Michelle Obama's State of the Union guest to promote his personal motto: "Don't be bored. Make something."

Brilliant.org once named him one of the "10 Smartest Kids in the World."

This year, at age 20, Hudy's mind betrayed him.

He had graduated from Arizona State University and moved to Hong Kong, his parents told TV station Fox 10, when he began experiencing paranoia and psychosis. He believed the Chinese government was following him and that his apartment was bugged.

"It was something I never dreamed of hearing," Hudy's mother, Julie Hudy, told Fox 10.

In January, he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital overseas and diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a disease of the mind that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. Symptoms usually manifest anywhere from age 16 to 30, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and can cause those affected to hear and see things that aren't real.

Doctors still aren't sure what causes schizophrenia, so treatment focuses on eliminating symptoms with antipsychotic medications and psychosocial therapy.

But treating schizophrenia, or any mental illness, can be financially crippling. To help offset the expenses, Hudy's older sister, Elizabeth Hudy, created a GoFundMe account on her parents' behalf.

"Anyone who knows my mother and father knows that they are some of the most generous and caring people you will ever meet," Elizabeth Hudy wrote on the fundraising site. "They fill the lives of others with so much love and support and they deserve the same, especially in such a difficult time."

While their son got help at an Ohio treatment center in February, Julie and Victor Hudy lived in a nearby hotel, Elizabeth Hudy wrote. His condition deteriorated and last week, Joey Hudy's doctors recommended he be transferred to a long term care facility in Tennessee.

"You may not be aware of the significant cost of mental health care in the United States for such a diagnosis, and neither was I," she wrote.

Ten days at the Ohio facility cost $19 500.

A month in Tennessee will cost more than $25 000.

"Joey will likely have to stay for a minimum of three months," Elizabeth wrote. "After this time we still don't know how long it will take for the medications to be effective or what will be the next steps."

As of Thursday morning, the family had raised $18 400 of its $50 000 goal and the GoFundMe had been widely circulated on social media among those in the Maker Faire community of tech and science enthusiasts and former Obama White House staffers. Among those who had donated was Paulette Aniskoff, a deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama White House.

The family said that any excess funds will go toward helping other families burdened by the cost of mental health care.