Monday, February 18, 2013
Help Me Howard: A 6-year-old's surgery
A South Florida father found the perfect doctor to perform life-changing surgery on his disabled daughter. There's just one problem. The doctor isn't in Florida and Medicaid won't pay, so he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Ezabella: "I am nervous."
Thomas Blood: "You are nervous? Why? Because there is nothing to be nervous about."
Thomas Blood: "I've never been on TV, that's why."
Six-year-old Ezabella is adorable, and she is also disabled.
Thomas Blood: "Do you like wearing the braces?"
Thomas Blood: "No? Why not?"
Ezabella: "Because I don't like it."
Ezabella has cerebral palsy. Her life is difficult.
Thomas Blood: "Lagging behind her whole childhood with sitting up, crawling, trying to walk, she had to walk with a walker for a while."
But now, when Thomas talks of his daughter's disability, it's no longer with fear, it's with hope.
Thomas Blood: "It's fixable."
That's right. Dr. T.S. Park at St. Louis Children's Hospital has performed 2500 surgeries on children like Ezabella with cerebral palsy, and Thomas says the results have been amazing.
Thomas Blood: "There have been children that have had it done that go to her therapy now and are currently doing wonderful."
On the hospital's website it says there have been no major complications in Park's surgeries done on children with cerebral palsy, but Ezabella needs a very complicated surgery.
Thomas Blood: "They remove vertebrae from her spine, and they cut nerves on her spinal cord that send messages from her brain to the legs."
After viewing this videotape of Ezabella, Thomas said Dr. Park' team told them she was a perfect candidate for the surgery.
Thomas Blood: "It could change her life. It could be a huge turnaround for her."
Fortunately, Ezabella has Medicaid, which is willing to pay for the surgery, but only if it's done by a doctor in Florida.
Thomas Blood: "We have already met with the doctor, and we just don't feel as comfortable with this doctor as we do with Dr. Park in St. Louis."
Dr. Park specializes in children and cuts one or two vertebrae. Thomas says the doctor in Florida does not specialize in children and told them he would cut out four or five vertebrae.
Thomas Blood: "If it was your child, you would want the best for your own child, and that's what I want."
Thomas asked Medicaid to just pay what they would pay in Florida and he would raise the money to cover the rest of the surgery in St. Louis. He says he was told no.
Thomas Blood: "That to me doesn't make sense."
It is about a child, about a surgery that could change her life dramatically.
Thomas Blood: "See the bruises all over her legs from falling?"
Fortunately, Ezabella does not know what her life will be like without the surgery, but the 6-year-old is beginning to understand she's different.
Ezabella: How come the rest of my friends don't have braces? I do. I think I don't like them."
'How come the rest of my friends don't have braces?' It's hard for a father to hear.
Thomas Blood: "I don't know how many nightmares I have had of her falling down the stairs, screaming my name, bleeding. It's not easy, it's hard."
A children's hospital in St. Louis with a surgeon that has helped thousands of children from around the world could help, but right now he is out of reach for a South Florida family.
Thomas Blood: "There are so many negative things that could come with her disability, and there are so many positive things that could come with having the surgery done."
But Howard, legally, can Medicaid say, 'Only in Florida,' even if there is a renowned surgeon in St. Louis that specializes in the surgery?
Howard Finkelstein: Yes. Medicaid can force you to use a doctor in Florida. However, if a doctor in Florida wants to remove four vertebrae instead of the two as the doctor in St. Louis does, Thomas can argue it is a different procedure, and if Medicaid can't find a doctor who removes only two vertebrae in Florida, they may be forced to allow Ezabella to have the surgery in St. Louis."
We then contacted Florida state officials. Then we contacted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's office, who offered to see what they could do for Ezabella. Progress was being made, and then a reminder that it's better to be lucky than good. Dr. Dean Hertzler, who does the surgery just as Dr. Park does, transferred to Joe DiMaggio and has agreed to operate on Ezabella .
Thomas Blood: "We met with him and he made us feel very comfortable."
Thomas is excited but nervous. Ezabella? Simply excited.
Ezabella: "I cant wait to do everything. I want to run with my friends. I hate falling on my knees."
And now the latest... I spoke to Thomas who had just met with the doctors. Ezabella is now in intensive care at Joe DiMaggio recovering. Thomas told me the doctors were happy with the surgery, which is great news.
Now Ezabella starts her therapy, learning to use muscles for walking she has never been able to use. With her enthusiasm, determination and support I just want to be there the day she gets to run with her classmates like she will do. Keep her in your thoughts and prayers, and we will keep you updated on Ezabella's recovery.
With this Help Me Howard I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.
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