Sick in the Philippines
The situation for Stan and Araceli Lowe is urgent and getting worse.
Stan is home in Parksville while his wife suffers with complex and serious medical issues 10,000 kilometres away in the Philippines.
“They might have to pull the plug,” he said tearfully early this week after hearing she refused kidney dialysis and wants her husband with her.
“Her head’s all mixed up,” he said listing off the litany of problems related to her diabetes: she had a blood transfusion, lost sight (hopefully reparable), can’t walk and has been in and out of coherence, hooked up to breathing and feeding tubes.
Married for 17 years, the Canadian citizens took their fifth trip to visit her family in the Philippines in September.
“A week after we got there she went into the hospital with an asthma attack,” Stan said.
Stan, 65, has leukemia and his wife, 56, has been suffering with diabetes-related complications, including a stroke a few years ago.
But they felt as good as they had in years when they set off for a six month visit.
Living on a meagre disability and pension income, the cheap living with her family there was one of the draws.
So when they heard additional medical travel insurance would cost well over $1,000, they gambled and went without it — their first time not taking out that insurance.
As soon as they arrived Araceli’s health began spiraling downward and she spent a week in the hospital, then went back to her sister’s to work on turning around and coming home to Canada. But the airlines wouldn’t let her fly in her condition.
While she seemed to be getting better, their financial situation was getting worse. A few weeks later her lungs filled with fluid and she was admitted to hospital again.
At a total cost of nearly $1,000 a day, including expensive medication they have to buy separately, they were quickly in trouble.
The first hospital visit cleaned out their savings, the second meant they where maxing out credit cards and borrowing from friends and family.
B.C. ministry of health spokesperson Ryan Jabs explained that “MSP will help reimburse unexpected medical services received anywhere in the world, provided the services are medically required, rendered by a licensed physician and normally insured by MSP.”
But it can take months to get cash back and Jabs pointed out they only reimburse up to the amount MSP would pay for the service in B.C.
“We have sympathy for any individual or family who may be faced with a bill for medical care outside B.C.,” he said, and it is because of stories like this that they “always urge British Columbians to ensure they have additional medical insurance in place before leaving the country.”
Amid the difficulties, with his wife out of the hospital again, Stan came back to Parksville to sort out pension paperwork and hopefully have an easier time arranging her trip back, admitting the language and cultural differences were making it difficult in the Philippines.
He hoped she’d be close behind him, but rather than improving, her health worsened. A couple weeks ago her kidneys shut down and she was re-admitted for a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis.
Now Stan is feeling completely overwhelmed and fearful, unable to get back to his wife who is still getting worse.
His first wish would be to get her home, but she’s too sick to travel commercially and an air ambulance would be far too expensive, quoted as “easily well over $100,000” (U.S.) by private companies that offer the service.
And Jabs points out they specifically don’t reimburse for flights.
Stan’s goal now is just to get back to his wife.
“They don’t treat people that well in hospitals there,” he said, looking completely worn out and eyes red and swollen from crying. “It’s just been a nightmare, every time she’s in the hospital we’re going further into debt.”
He has contacted everyone from the Embassy to Oprah, and churches to tempting Internet offers that his bank said are likely scams. The MLA and MP offices gave him phone numbers that didn’t prove helpful, he said.
He spends his days living in their RV in a friend’s driveway in Parksville, talking to his wife (when she could still speak) and her family in the Philippines and chasing dead ends in Canada.
Struggling with his own health issues and consumed with worry, he admitted he’s simply in over his head and needs trustworthy help, either direct financial help, or at least help navigating the system.
“My mind’s so screwed up, I’m not eating or sleeping properly, I just don’t know what to do, I need help, I’m on the verge of bankruptcy.”
He buried his head in his hands for a long moment. “I’m ready for a meltdown.”
The first to admit it was a mistake to go without additional health insurance, Stan is now just looking for a way out.
He has opened an account at the Parksville Royal Bank (transit 04130, account 5049309) and is looking for any help. He can be reached on his cell at 1-250-858-9986 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on traveling outside of B.C. check www.health.gov.bc.ca/msp/infoben/leavingbc.html.
For out of country claims and related information call 1-866-456-6950 (press 4, then 4 again).