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Large or Small? 

Our daughter Sarah, our third child, was born in July of last year. She was delivered via planned cesarean, without any complications. After a couple of days in the hospital, we were released to go home to our boys and the resumption of our daily life. Sarah was precious. Very quiet, and very easy. She slept thought the night, which we loved. She woke to feed for just a few minutes and then went back to sleep for hours. We told everyone who asked how easy she was.  

But she wasn’t gaining any weight. And Stephanie was more sensitive to this than I was, but she recognized that Sarah wasn’t eating as much as she expected. A dip in weight is normal in the days after birth, but that weight should be gained back after a week or so. After a month of little weight gain, Stephanie embarked on a journey of medical intervention in order to find out what was going on. There were all kinds of scans, tests, and exams that turned up nothing.

Eventually, she was admitted to the Fairbanks hospital in order to track her intake and output very closely over 24 hours. It was then that a heart murmur was detected, and her heart defect was first diagnosed: Supracardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR). Today, I know that mouthful of words like I know her own name.

Over the year and a half since that time, Stephanie and I have been managing the almost continuous stream of doctor bills, hospital bills, insurance statements, payments, insurance reimbursements, formal letters of appeal, negotiations, letters to the state department of insurance, phone calls, letters of decision, further letters of appeal, some hand wringing, more letters, more payments.

Stephanie agreed to be responsible for all of the insurance and medical related billing and paperwork. We knew it would be easier if one or the other of us took full responsibility for it, and Stephanie was willing to do so. Many, many thanks to her for keeping meticulous records of all of this and for going to bat on our behalf with our insurance company, my employer, and Sarah’s doctors. She did an incredibly thorough job.

Ultimately, it’s been kind of fascinating, in a train wreck sort of way, to see how much this whole experience cost, at least in monetary terms. The true cost can never be known.

The initial admission to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital was $9,925 for one overnight. Once the diagnosis came, we were immediately rushed to Anchorage. The medivac via a turbo prop and two ambulances was $17,500. Sarah and I were at Providence Hospital in Anchorage for about fourteen hours: $26,260. During that time, Sarah had her first procedure, a catheterization that entered her body in her femoral artery, right at the top of her thigh, and threaded its way into her heart: $20,260.

The next morning, Sarah and I flew on to Seattle on a Learjet. It probably would have been a pretty cool experience if my peripheral vision and my senses of wonder and adventure were working that day. They weren’t. Total cost: $38,540.

The actual heart surgery was a modest $19,978. A relatively small price for such a stunning act of medical and surgical skill. I’m still in awe of what they accomplished that day, and for which Sarah’s surgeon only charged $9,400.

The rest of our hospital stay at Children’s was more lengthy, and more costly. It makes sense, in such a world-class facility. $98,955.

Whenever I discuss money I feel like I have to clarify that I am neither bragging nor ashamed about all of these dollar amounts. They are what they are, and I find it interesting, even fascinating, but I cannot quite decide if I think this is a large dollar amount (it certainly is), or a relatively small dollar amount, considering what all was done (if the price of this surgery was in the millions, and the course and purpose of my entire life was suddenly redirected toward paying for it and nothing more, I would still consider it a worthy bargain).

All told, we were billed $231,500 for Sarah’s medical misadventure. She cost more than our house, more than our net worth, more than a few years’ salary, and more than a Lamborghini Gallardo (and I was this close to buying one of those, too).  

We are so blessed to have had excellent medical coverage through my employer. Because we do have insurance, that dollar amount above is not what we actually paid, but a percentage of a lot of money is still a lot of money. We are blessed to have the world of advanced medical technology available, and to have the support and prayers of our family. And more than anything, we are blessed to have Sarah with us as we struggle through this stack of paperwork. As I mentioned to Stephanie recently, there was no money back guarantee. If she hadn’t lived, we still would have been charged this amount and working through this paperwork, except that each statement, bill, and payment would be another poisoned reminder. She waved away both me and the thought as tears filled her eyes. 

Sarah is doing incredibly well, and shows no signs of any illness or limitation. Her scars are faint, but they will be a lifelong reminder of this experience. She runs around after the boys all day. She is frighteningly smart and uses this intelligence to torture Toby (she is her mother’s daughter). And she hasn’t had the attention to discipline that I think the boys have had, and so she’s fairly terrible about throwing herself down on the floor and having a fit of tantrum from time to time. But she’s also very sweet, cuddling warmly with mom or dad, patting us on the back when we hold her to mirror the way we are patting her. I am looking forward to watching her grow, to see her became a strong and beautiful adult. Who will be counting pennies then? 

Posted on Monday, November 16, 2009 at 11:07AM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

That last sentence brings a tear to my eye. What an incredible journey!
November 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermel guy
November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwatson

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