Editors Note: This story of recovery and overcoming adversity was originally published in Debtors Anonymous Ways and Means Quarterly Journal. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Andrea R. from Denver, CO
My name is Andrea and I am a compulsive debtor. I wrote a story for Ways & Means three or four years ago about having a debt-free baby. I’ve recently been asked to talk about our medical issues and debt. I really don’t know where to start. It’s been a rough two years since our second child was born. I had an easy pregnancy and delivery. After that, it’s been an uphill struggle with health issues for him since he was two months old.
At two months of age Alexander was hospitalized while my husband John was working out of town and we had joined him for a mini vacation. After five different antibiotics and a month of treatment we found out he needed two surgeries. They were minor birth defects and correctable with no real side effects. In my opinion, they were a precursor to an underlying genetic condition, although no one has said they are connected.
Our insurance company pulled out of Colorado and wrote us a letter stating federal insurance policies had made it impossible for them to afford to do business here. I couldn’t believe it. Right after the loss of our coverage, the kids and I were denied new health insurance. The agent said they could not deny the children, so they made up an unbelievable excuse for denying me. I take a $4 monthly medication for my thyroid and I went to therapy six times a year. There are no issues unless you don’t take the medicine. We soon ended up getting state sponsored coverage for those who get denied insurance in Colorado for just under $1,000 a month. John’s coverage for himself through his business is more than $400.
Six months later our son’s breathing issues started. He couldn’t fight off anything. Colds sometimes required round-the-clock breathing treatments given at home. We were in the doctors’ offices weekly and sometimes twice a week. We saw every doctor and nurse practitioner in the practice. I believed it was possible that too many antibiotics caused this problem. I know the answer now.
At about a year he got the stomach flu caught from visiting the doctor’s office for upper respiratory issues. He lost a pound. I begged the doctor to tell me what was wrong. At 15 months he was sent to get blood work, and needing more help, we went to a gastroenterologist. On my own, I saw a medical intuitive because I didn’t know what else to do. After many ups and downs and seeing many different professionals we did receive help from a variety of doctors, holistic practitioners, and nutritionists.
Concerns about Alexander’s eye ultimately led us to many more doctors and specialists, culminating in a diagnosis of retinoblastoma, a rare but curable form of cancer contracted by only five to 15 children in the U.S. each year. My son’s particular form of the disease could be best treated at a well-known cancer treatment center in New York City with expertise in this area.
Within days and after $2,000 in airline fares, we were in New York. Alexander was a good candidate for the specialized treatment, and the prognosis was good, but we had to fight ferociously with the insurance company to get it approved.
Other medical problems, including influenza and rhinovirus, required frequent visits from Colorado to a hospital in New York, and the use of a communal living hotel for the families of seriously ill children there. We were fortunate enough to be able to hire an au pair to watch our daughter while I went to the hospital with our son, and my husband worked.
Alexander’s treatments, known as Intra Arterial Chemotherapy, cost $175,000 per treatment, and he has had five of them. He’s also had other procedures costing thousands of dollars. Our insurance has paid all but $9,000 of the treatment costs over the past eight months. That was the annual deductibles for two years. We’ve had to pay $3,000 in prescriptions as well. We’ve had to pay for monthly airline flights and our stays at the communal living hotel, which our insurance does not cover.
The good news is that my family has been able to cover what we needed to pay and has not been late or unable to pay. We have asked for and received some help from charitable organizations. John makes too much money for Medicaid, although we are seeking Medicaid waivers based on other aspects of his medical condition.
Our son’s vision in his left eye has gone from blind to 20/180, which means he sees like he’s looking through a folded plastic bag.
Our doctor tells us it’s possible Alexander is cured, and medical tests have been hopeful. We will be returning to New York on a regular basis for at least two years to ensure his left eye remains cancer free and his right eye does not become cancerous.
Our son scooted around on his bottom for most of a year. Doctors said he would walk but probably never crawl because of his vision. He started crawling in December and is walking and running with a durable medical device donated for our use. He receives therapy twice a week in a beautiful facility for blind and impaired children. We also receive therapy at home from an insurance-paid pool that gives us free therapy.
I think our family might not have made it through this as well as we have if my spouse hadn’t joined us on this road of not debting one day at a time. He says I can tell his story if it will help people. In 2010 and 2011, John launched a new business venture that spiraled into $1.2 million in business debt. He has now about $500,000 in business debt along with about $150,000 in debt to the Internal Revenue Service. He has not debted since 2011. We have no personal debt except for the mortgage on our house.
I have not debted since July 9, 2005. I can tell you that in our family crisis I have become vague about income and expenses frequently, and am nowhere near perfect. I have not worked much since our son was born, and I drew unemployment until recently. I go up and down with my emotions, especially around money and debt. While preparing my numbers for our accountant this year I saw I needed to get back to basics. I am free from the bondage of my own personal debting but I see it is all around me. I have a right to be concerned about debt and how it affects my family.
I know that God is with me and if I keep trying to do the next right thing with God’s money, we will be OK and our needs will be met. We have so much to be grateful for in our life. We have been given unbelievable riches and wealth. We have maneuvered through cancer, and our family is still together and strong. I feel crazy at times, but I get centered and have support through God, the Twelve Steps, the Fellowship, and our family and friends. I now know that no matter what if I focus on God, I don’t have to debt even when faced with incredible circumstances. The truth is that you can too, by working the steps as outlined in the “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous.