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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Kathryn

Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.
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Jeff
11 years ago

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

Kathryn
11 years ago

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.

aolis
11 years ago

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

Retired Syd
11 years ago

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?

Faye
11 years ago

Kathryn,

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.

Jeff
11 years ago

Alex,

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?

alex
11 years ago

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.

cannon_fodder
11 years ago

Kathryn,

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?

Kathryn
11 years ago

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.

Sarlock
11 years ago

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.