When my son was a year and a half, we did a 3 month work term in the Philippines. We were working on a community development project on one of the remote islands for one week of our time there. It was an 18 hour ferry ride from the nearest port.

While we were there my son got very sick. We took him to the local clinic where they admitted him and tried for hours to insert an IV into his veins without success. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to watch. How could I put my son through this? What kind of parent was I to put my child’s life at risk because of my work?

He screamed until he was worn out and still he got sicker. He was losing fluids faster than we could get them into him. His veins were too small to insert the IV. The nurse matter-of-factly told us that he was going to die. In truth, she said, “When he dies, may I have his portable crib?”

We knew we had to get him off the island to save his life. We had health insurance that included emergency medical evacuation. We needed to get approval. We called and the person on the phone asked to speak to a the doctor in charge. After a lengthy conversation, our health insurance provider told us that the doctor on staff had the situation under control and didn’t think we needed to be medically evacuated. Our coverage was denied.

We could see our son was fading. We knew we didn’t have time to wait for the morning ferry and begin the 18 hour journey back to mainland. He was dehydrated. His sunken eyes were rolling back in his head. He couldn’t lift his head. He was too sick to cry.

It was at that point that we decided money no longer mattered. We called directly to our supervisor and ordered our own medical evacuation. I said to Brian, “I don’t care if this costs a million dollars. I don’t care if we’re going to be in debt for the rest of our lives. Our son is dying and we need to get him off this island now.”

A small plane was called. The local people and some of our colleagues worked at quickly filling in potholes in the dirt road. The local people stood along the road as the plane landed to keep the stray dogs and pigs from running out onto the road. A plane hadn’t landed on that island for as long as anyone could remember.

It was an hour flight to Manila where we were taken to an excellent hospital. We ran into the emergency room with our son in our arms, barely conscious and fading fast. They took him from us and immediately inserted a special pediatric IV. They told us if we didn’t get there when we did, he would have only had hours left to live. He stayed in the hospital for 5 days. They never could find the cause of what made him so sick.

In the end, when the organization we work for heard our story, they covered all the costs of the medical evacuation. They knew we made the right choice.

Later, as my son was recovering in the hospital, I began to think of the incredible people we’d left behind on that remote island. These were people that took us in, fed us, housed us, cared for us, advocated for us, cleared the road and helped us when we needed it so desperately. Yet, if it had been any of their children that had faced the same situation, their child would have died. They simply didn’t have the money.

It makes me sad that access to money is what saved my son’s life. There came a point when money didn’t matter and I would have be willing to pay anything. I know I made the right choice to do whatever it took. It seems unfair that I had a choice many people never get.

Have you ever been in a situation where money didn’t matter?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.


  1. Retired Syd on November 10, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Wow, what a story. With all the debate about health care reform and all the worries about the big bad government “taking over” our health insurance, I can’t imagine how that would be any worse than having the insurance companies in charge. Your son would not be alive if you left it to the insurance company. Why are we blindly accepting that as the gold standard?

  2. aolis on November 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I am surprised that you didn’t dispute the insurance company and let a volunteer organization cover the costs.

  3. Kathryn on November 17, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    aolis: It wasn’t a volunteer organization. It was a non-profit and they supplied our insurance for us. When they covered our costs they said they’d take it up with the insurance company.

    Hope that clears things up a bit.

  4. Jeff on November 18, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I thought this was a site about money. You may wish to start moderating the posts and eliminate the unrelated comments by fanatics.

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