Monday, July 14, 2008
Help Me Howard: Transplant Trouble
It's a gift from the heart and much more. One sister set to donate a kidney to her brother only to be denied by his insurance company just days before the transplant. With hope fading fast, the family turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Edna: "Her doctor said they were identical twins. That's how perfect a match they are."
Jon and his sister have a lot in common. He adores her, and, like the rest of the family, Vanessa adores Jon.
Vanessa Laboy: "You know he's always been like the clown and always trying to make people laugh, and he entertains us with his stories."
Jon may be laughing on the outside, but, inside, his body is literally dying after he developed a kidney disease when he was 16.
Jon Laboy: "I had dreams. I wanted to play football or be like the UFC fighters or something. I wanted that or music. So I can't do the NFL, I can't do the UFC, so."
Jon has tried to live a normal life. He got married and has three children but spending three days a week hooked up to a dialysis machine leaves him exhausted and makes it impossible to be the father he wants to be.
Jon Laboy: "My kids, they're babies. You know, I don't want my kids to be like, 'Man, why is daddy always sleeping? Why is daddy always locked up in the room?'"
Then Jon was told there was a solution. He had to find someone to donate one of their kidneys, and that kidney had to match his. When Vanessa heard that, she jumped up.
Vanessa Velez: "As soon as we found out that he needed it, I was like, 'I'm the one who is going to give it to him.'"
Edna Rodriguez: "The gift she is giving him is the gift of life, the gift of normalcy."
Turns out the brother and sister that have so much in common had one thing that matched, that you can't see, their kidneys.
Edna Rodriguez: "I was exhilarated, and I was terrified. I was exhilarated because I knew there was no way that his body would reject that kidney because it's such a perfect match, and then I was terrified because I was going to have the two people that I live for ... but I'm happy."
The surgery was set for June 18th. Vanessa came down from Tampa to meet with the transplant officials.
Vanessa Velez: "I'm like, 'OK, what's going on?' and that's when they told me, 'His insurance is refusing to pay for you.'"
The transplant was being denied by Medicaid for a technical reason that stunned them.
Edna Rodriguez: "Because she's a living donor."
Jon Laboy: "If it was a deceased person, they would have done it, but since it's a living donor, they won't do it. Why? I don't know."
There was one other option. Since Jackson Memorial Hospital collects a half cent sales tax, they have the option of performing transplants for free for Miami-Dade residents, but Jon lives in Broward County and is not eligible.
Edna Rodriguez: "Devastated. Oh, my God."
Jon Laboy: "You ever have your mind set on something real big, and you can see it, and you can taste it, and, all of a sudden, it gets snatched from you like you blink your eye, open it and it's gone."
Jackson told the family they could appeal the decision, but with the transplant canceled and Jon facing a life of weekly dialysis, their hearts were broken, and their heads filled with questions.
Edna Rodriguez: "I want an answer why. He is a United States citizen. He is a resident of Florida. She just lives in Tampa. Why can't they pay for her? I don't understand that."
So can Medicaid refuse to pay for a transplant because the donor is alive instead of dead? It's a new legal question for Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "Medicaid is a government-funded program for low income people that, in Florida, is run by private insurance companies. The companies then have to follow the rules set by the Florida Legislature and, in this case, legislators have said if you are alive and donating a kidney, Medicaid doesn't pay for it."
We then contacted Jackson to see if there were any more options to pursue. They told us, 'We are still trying to get Jon the transplant. "They then met the next week and uncovered one more option. While Medicaid doesn't pay, Medicare does cover for living donor transplants. Jon was eligible for Medicare.
On June 23rd, Jackson sent this note to us and said, "It should be noted, solely through Jackson's efforts, the patient was enrolled in Medicare. The surgery has now been rescheduled."
Jon Laboy: "Ready, ready for my new shot at life. I have a second chance basically to go out there and prove myself to the world."
Jon was ready. We went with him when he checked in for the transplant, signing papers, getting blood drawn, and then finally being told it's time.
Jon Laboy: "I'm ready, let's go, and do it right now, let's go."
Thanks to Vanessa, Jon got his transplant. She came out fine, and Jon is doing great as well.
Jon Laboy: "Sore but new, brand new, brand, brand new."
Jon is ready for a second chance at life, and, with her two children recovering, Edna is breathing two sighs of relief.
Edna Rodriguez: "I feel ecstatic. I'm so grateful. I don't know, I was terrified, and now I can't even express the feeling I have now that he can go swimming. He can actually dunk himself under the water, take a shower."
Jon headed home to his kids, but he told me he'll be back to talk to kids facing what he has lived through.
Jon Laboy: "I want to help out young kids that are on dialysis, to give them encouragement."
And now he can help young kids for a long time thanks to a sister's gift, a hospital's determination and a little help from his friends and family.
Edna Rodriguez: "And thank you guys very much because I know if it wouldn't have been for you guys, this wouldn't be happening right now."
Patrick Fraser: "Well, Edna gives us all the credit for Jon getting the transplant to us. Jackson says they made it happen, and we don't care who gets the credit, just that Jon got the kidney transplant, has a new life and now can run and play with his three kids forever. That's all that matters."
Want to transplant your troubles? We know somebody that cares, us. Contact us, we'll be happy to donate our time to you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
EMAIL: email@example.com (please include your contact number when emailing)