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.

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Thank god for your brave decision Kathryn. In the choice of life or death, money simply isn’t a factor at all.

Thanks for sharing your story Kathryn. I would pay anything as well if I were in that situation.


I’ve never been in a situation of this magnitude where money didn’t matter. I would like to think I’d recognize those moments when they came.

There are also the lesser events when money should not matter, and these are harder to recognize. The times when spending a few extra bucks on something can add so much more value. Like spending $20 on an Aerobie on your way to the family reunion – yeah, a few bucks out of pocket, but some wicked memories watching the nieces and nephews run around chasing the orange orb.

At life’s major and minor moments, there are times when we need to open the purse stings a bit to lead a meaningful life. Keep your eyes open, and recognize these moments when they come.

I’m glad everything was sorted out with your son.

Makes me think of how spoiled we are here in Canada in regards to healthcare. My friends and I went horseback riding in San Diego and one of us fell and broke her leg. In the end, we had to pay almost 7000 of hospital services. When it comes to health, there is no substitute.

Health is our greatest asset indeed.

Wow. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank God your son is okay.

As much as we all hate to admit it, ultimately it is the distribution of wealth that determines who gets access to health care and who does not and in many cases who will live and who will not.

Apparently you can put a price on a life (unfortunately)

Wow, glad your son was ok. It’s too bad the doctor on the island didn’t recognize that he didn’t “have the situation under control”.

That’s a dramatic story! Watching somebody trying to find a vein is heart wrenching even when it’s not life or death. I’m glad he was okay, he’ll probably love telling the story when he’s older.

A couple of years ago I had to bribe one of my nearest and dearest out of a hellhole developing-world prison and pay a hefty premium for an immediate flight out. It cost quite a bit of money and the time I spent on it almost lost me my job, but of course I would have spent many multiples of it to make sure he was okay. Hellish at the time but it makes a good story to tell now. As an expat I’ve also done the get-a-flight-home-ASAP thing for funerals more than once.

It’s only money, as they say.

Thank you for the honesty……there are definately times when money DOESN’T matter.

The lesson is don’t take your babies on your personal voyages to remote places

It must be tough being so perfect Andrew.

I’m glad things worked out and I agree, especially with health money cannot be thought about. In emergency situations or others sometimes you have to just spend because there are bigger things out there that are more important.

What a raw story. I have family in the Philippines and some of them live in these types of conditions. When I travel back home in a few months and I hope to gain a better understanding of their struggle and to better appreaciate my life in Canada. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

I know exactly how you felt when the nurse trying to insert IV fluids but unsuccessful. When my daughter was 9 months old she got sick and we took her to the hospital and same thing they tried to find her vein for the IV fluid but after poking her arms,legs for 33 times they finally shaved her head and that’s where they found visible veins. I was told after that we should have taken her to the Children hospital where they specialize in children. Unfortunately, money is the solution to almost everything but in my case I wish to go in debts forever rather than watching her go through that if there was a choice.

My son was very ill with common autistic and celiac symptoms, including head bashing, inability to speak, inability to eat solids, disintegrating teeth, stopped growth, then chronic diarrhea (this is the very short list).

When I learned about a diet that could resolve the symptoms of both autism and celiac disease, I took it on. As the sole parent of my child, I struggled to pay for the cost of whole, organic foods in a diet absent of all typical fillers (wheat, potatoes, etc). I refinanced my house three times and ultimately sold it. Yes, I felt that money didn’t matter. I was willing to work as hard as I could and also to borrow as much as I needed to, for as long as I needed to, even if it meant bankruptcy in the end. I knew I likely needed about two years of this program* to recover my son, and I was went for it.

Today, my son (5) is healthy and happy. He speaks, eats, plays, socializes, laughs…Yes, 100% worth it.

*The program is Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome: http://gapsdiet.com/

I am gald you did what you did and that your son is ok now. But I do not see this post making sense at all in the context of this website. It doesn’t give any financial advice or insight and that is the only reason I read posts here. Looks more like it belongs to reader’s digest or any other magazine which publishes tear wrenching, life changing stories.
Don’t get me wrong here, I totally empathise with you but this read was a waste of time. Try practizing you writing skills in a more appropriate forum.


Send a complaint like that directly to FT, not in reply to a post that was clearly an emotional moment for its author.

Try practicing your criticizing skills in a more appropriate forum.


I think this article gives some financial insight, that sometimes you need to be willing to suffer financially to flourish emotionally. Always put health before wealth maybe? It seems odd, however, that you would take the time to comment on an article you felt wasn’t worth the effort of reading.

Anyway, I spent about $15,000 on physio after a car accident because my insurance wouldn’t pay enough to cover the treatments. It stung to be out that much money but I can literally stand on my own two feet because of that sacrifice.

Awesome post, Kathryn! I don’t like reading stories, but this one had me glued the whole way down!

As opposed to “NP”, I quite enjoy this type of a step back. The purpose of this post, in my opinion, was to regain a broad perspective at money and life, realizing that there are sometimes when it doesn’t matter what funds are hot, or how you saved $1000 on taxes last year.

NP’s diatribe should have been directed to FrugalTrader, because I’m sure a guest post must go through the person in charge before showing up on the site. He’s in charge of the content on this BLOG.

It’s the first time I’ve written about this experience, although I’ve talked about what happened many times before.

In the 10 years that have past since it happened I’ve gained a lot of perspective. It took me a long time to let go of the guilt, both at putting my child at risk and at having access to resources that saved my child’s life when another child in the same situation would have died.

The intent was, as andrewbpatterson and others suggested to gain a fresh perceptive on money, priorities and financial sacrifice.

NP – Why don’t you ask FT for your money back? I’m sure he’d be happy to pay it back double.

If you can’t see the connection between Kathryn’s decision about paying “any amount of money to save her son” and personal finance (which is usually about money) then you need to go to a personal finance blog for “simpler folks” where they will connect the simple dots for you. The Simple Dollar would be my recommendation.

A friend of mine worked with Engineers Without Borders in Zambia. He was tasked with removing the cultural barriers that were preventing villages from becoming self sufficient. Not really the work of an engineer…but the pumps and irrigation equipment that were being provided to the village weren’t being used.
This friend was the type of person who never backed down from a challenge. And this was definitely going to test his resolve. The village agreed to have him live in the area for a year, they provided a 5 acre parcel, a hut for shelter and some basic tools to work the land. It was his job to demonstate a working farm. (by the way, he did grow up on a farm, so he had lots of experience working the land)
My friend worked for months on the farm, living on nothing but what he could trade and sell. No outside money was used to supplement his income. He was committed to living in their shoes. The village supported him whenever possible, but he often went days witout food, waiting for a rat to fall out of the thatch roof of his hut into the waiting pail of water.
Unfortunately, the drought killed his crop and he was devastated that he was unable to demonstate a successful farming operation.
Nearing the end of his time in Zambie, some friends from Canada made a trip to Africa to see the sites and provide my friend with moral support. They arranged for a trip to Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zimbabwe. A highlight of the trip was a scenic boat ride up to the Falls.
The point of this story:
While on the boat, my friend broke into tears. He was struggling with the fact that the money spent on the 2 hour boat ride was considerably more than what he and his fellow villagers had used to survive on for close to a year. The gift he was accepting could provide a years worth of tomatoes for his entire village. His new world couldn’t exist with his old world. The choices he made in life would always be tempered by his understanding of what a dollar could provide to his fellow villagers in Zambia.

He went on to understand many of the cultural barriers that ultimately helped his organization provide better training and support to the villages in Zambia.

With your explanation I understand better where you are trying to say.
Hope I did not hurt you with my comments
@ all others who comment on comments
I have a right to voice my opinion, no matter how outrageous or unacceptable it may be for you. You may disagree with me or ridicule me but again that it your right to voice your opinion and I respect that.

NP, as Gregory House, of the TV series “House”, has a catch phrase used often on his show. It is applicable to you.

“You’re an idiot”

This story would make a good scenario for a movie.

However, I think the author has made a series of financial mistakes that have led to that situation:
(1) decided to have the child when she was too young and obviously was in a poor financial situation
(2) accepted a very dangerous job when she had a small child. Probably that was a financial unwise decision given the risks associated with the job.
(3) decided to take him on the remote island instead of hiring someone to take care of him for the week. Given the risks associated with taking a small child on a remote undeveloped island, the care costs would have been more than justified.

I think this is a situation where the mother have failed to correctly evaluate the risks. In the end that proved to be very expensive, and could have been even worse. Fortunately, the story had a happy-ending.

Please don’t tell me “you’re an idiot”, but comment on the facts.

SCO, you’re an idiot.

This is a great reminder that while we may struggle to save, one life incident can wipe out everything that we’ve squirrelled away… BUT, if we hadn’t saved in the first place, we would have been in a much more dire situation. It is also a great reminder of how lucky we are to be living in an afluent part of the world where we even have the option available to spend that kind of money on health care. Most people on this planet do not have that option.

@House Lol

@sco – You are very presumptuous.

1) decided to have the child when she was too young and obviously was in a poor financial situation

You don’t know how old she was when she had the child and you have no idea what her financial situation was.

(2) accepted a very dangerous job when she had a small child. Probably that was a financial unwise decision given the risks associated with the job.

She never said what the job was so there is no way of knowing if there was any excessive danger associated with it.

(3) decided to take him on the remote island instead of hiring someone to take care of him for the week. Given the risks associated with taking a small child on a remote undeveloped island, the care costs would have been more than justified.

Do you really think that leaving a 1.5 year old with strangers in a foreign country is the obviously safer choice rather than taking him with her onto a remote island? I agree there is some extra risk on the island but I don’t think it was that much.

I think this is a situation where the mother have failed to correctly evaluate the risks.

Maybe, but you seem to be using 20/20 hindsight to do your evaluation.

In the end that proved to be very expensive, and could have been even worse.

It wasn’t expensive – the evacuation ended up being covered.

NP, while you are certainly welcome to share your opinions, you should take a moment to consider their effects before broadcasting them to the general public. How do you think the author felt when she read your criticism? Founded or not, this is not an appropriate place to make your voice heard on such a topic – try an email to FT. But, then, if you had that kind of consideration and compassion for others, you wouldn’t have posted your criticisms in the first place.


Kathryn is one of the most responsible people I’ve ever known. As you requested, I’ll respond to your “facts”:

1) She wasn’t too young, and she wasn’t in a poor financial situation. She had insurance that should have helped her get off the island when the child got sick, but, as is typical with insurance companies, they don’t follow through when it counts.

2) The job may have been riskier than say, working in an office in Toronto, but the child could have become sick anywhere. Being on that island that week had nothing to do with the illness, and again, the insurance should have helped when the problem arose. That’s what it’s for.

3) Why would she leave her child behind? She couldn’t have known he would get sick. And there was a clinic on the island. And she had emergency medical evacuation insurance. Are you saying you wouldn’t take a child camping, or on any other remote trip? What a boring life you must lead if you never step outside of the safety net of having a first-world hospital just down the street.

The important point she brings forward is that sometimes money doesn’t matter. And she highlights how wrong it is that a child’s life can depend on access to money, and how often other children must die needlessly. Provides some balance for those who sacrifice having an interesting life in favour of chasing nickels and dimes.

Kathryn is an amazing treasure of a person. Big hugs. Thanks for sharing!

SCO is a money-obsessed idiot. Dude, get a life!

Wow, very emotional story. Thanks for sharing this experience with us. It must have been so discouraging to watch the doctors unable to properly help him. I’m glad you were able to get him Manilla in time. That must’ve been a real life changing moment. You look at things so much differently when you almost lose something.

You made the right choice. It is crazy to think you have to get approval from your health insurance provider for this type of an event. I am glad the story turned out the way it did!

Thanks for not telling me “you’re an idiot”. Also, for not being money-obsessed despite reading a blog named “million dollar journey”.

I agree with NP that this is not a financial story. It’s an illustration of the biologic fact that for parents the most valuable asset is their child (which is really no personal merit, it’s programmed in their genes). Any parent would have done the same thing.
It would have been a financial story if the child would have been one of the poor locals and the author would have spend money from her own pocket to save a poor stranger. Or if she had donated all her earnings to the poor people who have helped her out of the island.

SCO she was donating time working on a project. Sounds like a financial story to me. It isnt always about money. Time is worth something too.

You attack Kathryn like she was a 16 year old knocked up teen who decided to back pack through the Philippines singing kumbaya. There was nothing irresponsible in what she did.

Her whole story is related to money and finance.

Personally what i took from her article is that no matter how much I stash into an RSP, TFSA, or no matter how big a mortgage I have, or how fast I pay it off, there are some things you cannot put a price on.

Health is definitely one of them. The Brinks truck doesnt follow the hearse my friend, and no matter how much cashola you have, dead is still dead.

I suppose one could afford a real “bitchin” headstone.

I picked one out for you:

“Here lies SCO……. he was an idiot”

What was the name of the insurance company?

That’s a touching story for sure and i’m glad it had a happy ending. It really does highlight just how insignificant money really is when the chips are on the line and someone dear to us falls ill. Life is short and its important to live it to the fullest. Great post.

I have to say, I’m surprised at the direction the comments have taken. Thanks to those that came to my defense and saw the intent of the post. And no, I wasn’t too young. I’m nearly 40 and that was 10 years ago.

Jeff: I don’t remember. It was so long ago now. I don’t blame them though. The Dr. at the clinic is the one that wouldn’t approve the medical evacuation.

Andrew: I think your very mistaken with your view that you don’t take your child to a remote island. Things like this happen. What is more important is knowing when to spend money that you do have. Saving money and wealth means very little if you lose a child or someone that matters in your life. It also shows that if you’re not competent, the costly effects it can have. In this example, obviously it was the doctor that was not competent. Kathryn did everything correct and was smart enough to realize that the “professional” was not wrong. That is what screws a lot of people in life is that they put their entire trust in the doctor, “financial planner”, car sales person, accountant, lawyer,etc.

I know a guy that talked to 50 doctors around the world before you found one that told him he would be able to ski again. He spent two years working with that one doctor. He skis today. Smart guy. Still has his ski sponsors and in the mean time started a ski company. But imagine if he had listened to the first 51 doctors??

I think this story is about money – about having access to the money to be able to say that “money no longer mattered”. It’s true that the islanders did not have the ability to say that. You could have been in debt for the rest of your life but you still would have gotten your son off that island.

I think the lesson I see here is to prepare for emergencies as best as possible. This means having the right insurance (from the insurance provider with the best reputation you can find) and having access to funds (available credit on a credit card, line of credit). As Sandor and Guiness416 know, the money spent is worth it.

Todd, you’re right: there’s nothing wrong with getting a second (or 52nd) opinion if you don’t agree with the first one. I never expect my advice to be taken as gospel, it’s for individuals to take in and use as they need to. Many people do need guidance, though, we can’t all be experts on everything! :)

Wow – that’s quite a scary experience. It’s good everything worked out.

I know what you mean about people who live in remote places and don’t have access to things.

Everytime I go back to Vietnam I always stop by at the orphanage to donate money.

To be honest I couldn’t care less if the story was about money or not – it was a good read.

Kathryn – you look about 20 in your photo.

I don’t agree that this village was all that remote – 1 hour by plane (I’m guessing a smallish one) from Manilla? It’s not like it was Antarctica.

What an excellent story. You did what anyone else would have done from a visiting country, but I agree that the general attitude of the locals is that they don’t have the mindset to think they can do anything else.

The year after my father retired, he went on vacation to Maui with several members of my family. Unfortunately, he, along with several other tourists, had a freak accident by the shore – they were just standing around in the water at waist high in a family oriented resort – when all of a sudden a wave came out of nowhere. They lost their balance, some hit their head on the floor (since they were standing not far from the the shore). The next thing we knew was that these people, including my father, had to be rushed to the nearest ER as they all suffered varying degrees of injury from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) to permanent paralysis.

My father had just about all of it. It may be his older age that this took more toll on his body than the others and he had to be put on a ventilator for one full month in the ICU. There were other problems that came along in the process but there was not a lot they could do until he was able to breathe on his own.

Health care expenses are ridiculously high. The surgeries, the many treatments when his organs went into shock, etc. He did have some insurance but it didn’t take long before it got maxed out.

All of us knew that this was one moment where money didn’t matter.

Weeks went by and just when the doctors were starting to discuss with the family about the possibility of pulling the plug, his condition miraculously started to improve. He was good enough to be transferred out of ICU but was not good enough to return home.

The only way for him to return home was to fly. However, there were so many bubbles and stuff in his lungs that he would not survive the changing air pressure until they got under control. Unfortunately, the only thing we could do then was wait – to simply wait for his lung tissues to repair themselves to a level where it would be safe to fly.

And as we waited, we also knew that the bill just got bigger and bigger.

But his improvement was good enough over several more weeks of waiting that he could come back home.

We negotiated as much as we could with the various doctors and the hospital for the final bills after we came back to Ottawa. The insurance money helped a little but it left a big dent on his savings over all these years. We felt that he worked hard all his life and he has every right to spend it on himself.

He spent six months in the rehabilitation centre and has since been living at home for two years. While he remains quadriplegic paralyzed from the neck down, he has started to come around accepting it and that has made a big difference.

Personal stories aside, I thought I should share some lessons learned here for the readers of this fine personal finance blog.

1) Consider travel insurance when traveling outside of your own province

We did have some but I know many that don’t want to spend the money. Note: this is different from the accidental death and dismemberment insurance but that also could help.

2) Consider disability insurance

It can cost dearly if you are unable to return to work due to an injury. Not just the medical expenses at the time of the injury but the ongoing expenses afterwards. Most disability insurance pays up to the age of 65 so in my father’s case, this wouldn’t have helped much.

3) Consider living wills and power of attorneys

When it came to difficult decisions, we had different opinions in the family. A living will could help the family make the tough decisions.

4) Make sure that the family knows about the above documents: location, contact info, etc.

I strongly agree with Jason’s recommendation about travel insurance but am not sure why the local doctor in Kathryn’s story would have had any authority in the matter of the evacuation. I thought the travel insurance companies engage their own doctors to provide input on such decisions, probably to protect themselves as much as to provide assistance to clients.

this sortof thing happens in my home continent Africa all the time. But the thing is that the people have no money ti fly their loved onces to hospitals abroad and so most have to watch the light in their loved ones eyes slowly fade and they cannot do a damn thing about it. This is the sad twisted world that we live in

This brings up another topic worth discussing at another time: travel medical insurance. I have heard many horror stories of insurance companies that avoid paying the bill through any means available or when they do have to foot the bill, transfer a patient long before they are stable back to Canada so that they can escape any further medical costs. I’m about to head to the US for a few weeks for a vacation with my family and I have opted to go without insurance for that very reason: I am fortunate enough to be able to afford medical if I need it down there and without an insurance company calling the shots I can at least get the treatment that my family needs should there be an incident.

Wow, Jason, thanks for sharing you story and the lessons you learned from it.

Sarlock: Agreed. Great idea for a post. We don’t even cross the border for a day of shopping without full travel insurance just in case.


Your story really choked me up… I have seen through my own family that, even in Canada, one needs to really advocate for oneself when dealing with critical medical issues.

While this forum is open for everyone to share their thoughts and opinions, I am disappointed that some couldn’t have shown more tact. I have no doubt that, even 10 years later, it is very difficult to relive this experience through such a public medium.

I have a difficult time seeing how this is NOT relevant to a journey to financial independence. As has been the case in too many lives, exhorbitant medical expenses can derail even the best laid plans. And, we all have a responsibility to consider the less fortunate to maintain a proper perspective. Pursuit of wealth at all costs, costs everything…

As far as critiquing you as a mother… I thought that job was the exclusive domain of the mother-in-law! ;-)

B – your strength to resolve your young son’s issues is commendable. Is this similar to what Jenny McCarthy is publicly supporting for her child?

I believe that you are irresponsible person, that is all. Taking child to the remote tropical island and hope for the best is irresponsible. The details you have described are horrifying for any parents and you and only you are at fault. I wonder if you would ever get the simplicity of this statement. Hope for the best.


I hope if you have children you don’t let them leave the house or, if you do, that you don’t let them walk down the street, or, if you do, that you certainly don’t let them play sports. Do you understand the simplicity of THIS statement?


I was incredibly touched by your story.

Please discount the people who are judging your life based on a story that it must be incredibly difficult to share. And thank you for sharing it.

I’ve been in a similar place, financially, and was prepared to make the same choices.

My daughter, at the age of 18 months, had a tumour removed from her abdomen that was expected to be benign. In fact, it wasn’t. It was a very aggressive form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma.

Within hours, our life was turned upside down, and we had to plan for the possibility of up to 18 months in weekly treatments, at a children’s hospital over 2 hours away. At that time, we were living, just like all our peers, on the edge of line-of-credit-purgatory, and had no emergency fund. We hadn’t planned for this.

It only took us hours to decide that we would choose to give up our home, our cars and all our possessions in order to look after our baby.

Now, critics might say that we had a poor financial plan, with no E-fund and too much debt and they’d be right.

They could laud us for the lucky coincidence of living in Canada, where hospital expenses are covered by universal health care — it really wasn’t anything we consciously chose.

They might also say that living that far away from a children’s hospital when you have young children is foolish. We could have saved a lot of travel expenses and time away from work if we’d only moved next to the hospital when our first child was born.

You’re a wonderful parent, to do your best for that little one and to go beyond what the local doctor thought was possible. I bet every hug and kiss is more than payment for your efforts, too.