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Q&A: Where did you get the best financial help?
Financial Help After a Spinal Cord Injury
We were fortunate enough to have a catastrophic fund associated with automobile accidents in our state. And because of that, Marie has been able to get a lot of her care through that CAT fund. It’s no longer available for others; it was stopped very soon after her accident. But it has been just an unbelievable support financially for her over the years.
Actually, we did have some decent insurance at the time. So, we had good health care coverage and that was huge. But, we did move, when Danny was five years old from a state that had very good health care coverage, to state in a new position for my husband that had very, very poor coverage. And so, we then had to seek other assistance, and that's where Shriners Hospitals actually came in. Because actually, we weren't receiving any services for a while because we didn't know where we were going to receive, or how we would go about it, how we were financially take care of it, and somebody told us about Shriners Hospitals, and that's how we got connected with Shriners.
Yes, so it was insurance. And, also like I said, I was on a basketball scholarship at Clayton State University, so they rallied behind me, and they did a bunch of fundraisers for me. And I also use, I think it’s “Help Hope Live,” where people can donate to them, and I use some of that fund for various things. And also I did the Brain and Spinal Trust Fund that helped me put a down payment down to my van, one that I use for transportation to go to the school and therapy. And also I use the grants—I use the Challenged Athlete Fund for my rugby chair once I started playing rugby, and I also use Travis Roy Foundation for a shower chair.
We had two fundraisers thrown for us. One was through my dad’s work, they put on, like, a big bowling fundraiser. And the other one was through my husband’s work, they did a huge fundraiser. That was probably the most support that I can talk of that we’ve gotten. The rest was—my husband’s company offered an excellent insurance plan. We had opted to pay a little bit more over the years to have the top of the line plan, so we were very lucky, I can’t imagine for people who don’t have that kind of plan. We were able to have that for a year because he stayed, technically stayed employed with them for a year. And then, we were able to pick up a COBRA plan because I didn’t work full time at the time.
Well the cost of my hospital stay at Northwestern was like a quarter of a million dollars. When I was initially hurt, I was still under my mother's insurance, so Medicaid hadn't kicked in, and they were actually going to charge us for the hospital stay. So, my mom was really stressed about that. She was still having to work and contact the Social Security Administration board, trying to contact anybody from the hospital that could really help us, and let us know that the bills were going to be taken care of because at first I wasn't going to receive any type of assistance of any type. But once my public aid started to kick-in, everything was good and it kind of relieved my mother's stress level. She really is like the business person in our family, so that really kind of took a toll on her.
My brothers belong to the Shriners and that's I how I decided, you know, let's go to Shriners. And, I worked 50-60 hours a week, and I'm the type, I don't like help financially or otherwise, and it was hard for me to realize, you know what, not only do I need the help, but it's okay. You're used to not accepting help and now you have to, for your own survival and your child's.
That’s funny because he didn’t have insurance when all of this went down. He was doing his Master’s program, and like he said, “It was either getting his Master’s and eat, or pay for insurance.” He didn’t pay for insurance, he didn’t have it. But my wife knew some people in Trenton. She was the Director of Welfare in our county, so she knew about the Medicaid program, so we got him into that, and luckily they took it back to when the injury occurred. But, it’s been a fight every step of the way, well most people most know what the shortages are. Everything has been a fight for him unfortunately.
Because it happened at work it was worker’s compensation. We are covered from them in Social Security, and also Penske Truck Leasing has been very amazing. They give him a monthly pay check, which they don’t have to. They set up a college fund for both of our children. Actually, all of the minor children that were affected from the shooting were given a college fund.
There was definitely financial question and stuff like that, and my wife takes care of most of the finances, so she was on top of all that. Fortunately, I was set up with disability through my work so that kicked in. We were fortunate to have family come in and help us, and as in we lived with family for the first little bit after I got discharged from the hospital because we lived on a second-floor apartment, so there was no going back to that. And of course, I wasn’t working so for the four months I was in rehab. I wasn’t working, and then I took a month off and I slowly eased back in. But initially, it’s really just kind of relearning how to do, or learning a new job as it is making money. You know you don’t really start making money and being self-sufficient until you learn all that. Fortunately for us, we had help from family where we needed it and then friends and family were able to donate so that helped a lot.
Yes, Ryan had insurance through his employer that covered his time in rehab. And, we were fortunate enough to have a friend that started a GoFundMe for us to reach out to the community, and friends and people that we knew to kind of get us financial help to cushion whatever was coming. Because we didn’t know what it was, and what it was going to look like and that was extremely helpful. Today I feel like we definitely have a better handle on things, having that cushion really helped us get through the earlier days. Because there’s a lot more expenses right in the beginning, so it helped us handle those earlier expenses. But once you kind of, the dust settles if you will, I feel like we had enough of a cushion left to kind of help us get situated and figure out how we’re going to handle things going forward. So, it was kind of hard to fathom in the beginning, but it did level out for us.
The greatest financial concern in the beginning was her medical bills—who will take are of her medical bills, people at the hospital came and talked to us about it. "How will you pay for this? What kind of insurance do you have?" And I explained to them that she does not have any insurance, she just got out of school, and she doesn't have a job yet. She was 21 and wasn't on our health plan, so they explained to us what we needed to do to apply for state help and, you know, financial aid on how to pay for the hospital bills. So, that's where, you know, all the greatest help came from was from the hospital.
I actually got it from the government. My injury, and this is very important to note, is that was not service-connected, but even though it was non-service-connected, I was covered as a reservist under TRS, which is Tricare Reserve Select. Because I was injured and I was a reservist, I was, I had insurance to take care of a lot of different things. Whereas I know of a lot of different folks that were, civilians, if they have this, if they had been injured, their insurance would run out because they’d have this, like, umbrella policy, which limits them to, let’s say, a million dollars or whatever. But because I had a no-limit policy, just because of my being employed in the military; they were willing to pay as much as needed to get this service and therapy done. All in all, I think the full price of all it was maybe $400,000 and some change, just for the first four months—crazy, all right. And the first 10 days was another $100,000. But I’m just throwing out these numbers to you that it’s very important that—for those out there, if you’re not injured yet, make sure you get the best insurance policy you possibly can, I’m serious about that.
I was very blessed, I had insurance—I had double insurance because my ex-husband in a marine. So, we had my insurance and his insurance. So, when we got that first bill it was very scary because I’ve never been in any kind of accident like this. To have over a 150,000-dollar bill, we thought we’re going to have to file bankruptcy. But that was like a preliminary bill before insurance touches it. Thank goodness we had insurance.
There are grants out there. There are funds available to help you with expenses, whether it be adaptive equipment, or ramp at your house. So really go for those funds if they are out there, research them, find them. That can be a great help.
When I was first injured, my family did immediately start working on a fundraiser. They got good advice early on, so we were able to apply for the Spinal Cord Trust that, I think some states have them, and I got some funds through that. But the process of these organizations is a tease, so you have to be kind of persistent and stick with it. We raised a good amount the first year, and over time, it becomes a little bit challenging to figure out how you’re going to continue to get funding sources. You can’t keep digging in the same pot asking folks for money. So, I eventually realized that I had go back to work. For some folks it’s more of dealing with, working with the system through Medicaid. I didn’t qualify for Medicaid, so I had to work it out otherwise. But I’m still fundraising—it kind of needs to be there if you don’t have like a Medicaid or a source that’s going to be constant.
It’s kind of hard to say this, but I guess I’m—if you’re going to have an accident, I had mine on workman’s comp, I was on company business—and, I guess in the medical business, having workman’s comp is a good thing. All the doctors’ eyes light up, “Oh, you’ve got workman’s comp, okay, no problem. You can get this, and this, and this.” And so, that’s kind of been a very good thing. McDonalds has been, I guess, very good to me. We have a catastrophic insurance company, Zurich American, and I have a case manager I’ve had since, the same one for the last 15 years. And, we have a good relationship, we talk on the phone, we email, and so that’s been good.
I had health insurance at the time, I was a full time employee and I had health insurance. I chose not to file worker’s comp because I felt responsible for my own actions. My boss did not push me, or push that truck out in front of me for my motorcycle accident to occur. So, I accepted responsibility for that. But my health insurance was there, and covered the main portions of all my rehab stay and all the things that I needed. But I think if I had to say the best financial help that I got was probably the $7,000.00, which doesn’t sound like much, but what made those $7,000.00 more valuable than its face value was where it came from. My friends and family put together a fundraiser and people came out of the woodwork. People who’ve never met me, never been a part of my life, never shared airspace with me came to this event, contributed items to be auctioned, or gave performances, and helped me raise this little $7,000.00 that we used to pay for our driveway, so it would be easier for us to get in and out of the car, and things at home. But that was probably the best, to use that word. That was the best financial help that I got because it inspired in me a more hopeful perspective on humanity itself.
My husband has a cousin who's an accountant, and he said, "You're going to take a second mortgage, you're going to take out this much money, you're going to put it in the bank and you're probably going to need it across the next three years." It was almost to the exact dollar amount.
I believe it was the state of Illinois that paid for the ten-thousand dollar lift that gets me from the ground up to the first floor, which is about twelve feet. And, the city of Chicago came in and did $10,000 grant—they took out the bathtub, put in a roll-in shower, widened three or four doorways, so my wheelchair could fit in instead of just squeaking through. And, ever since then, it's been really, I'm just really blessed to be in Chicago. I just thank everyday that I wake up that I'm here, and I have great friends and being able to live on my own.
Well, obviously the financial concerns were heavy on our mind. Fortunately, we had very good insurance, and some of the best news we heard was when they came in and said, “everything is covered now.” And we were like “oh, that’s nice.” Of course, that was about 10,000 dollars later and the cost continued to go on. So, there is, even with good insurance, there’s still a lot of cost to get things done. And so, we had to take out of savings, and change retirement plans, and sell a house, and move things around and do some things that changed our ability to live the rest of our life. But it also set us up for the life that we live now from a wheelchair, which I’m very thankful for that we have that ability.
I've been lucky because I've been granted a lot of things that people may not have. I mean the resources that are available to me are not going to be available to everyone else. And I was able to have this house retro-fitted to my injury; I have 24-hour nursing care. I have a ranch house, and I'm able to, I have a larger room, we were able to build a room out for myself. But I have a track in the ceiling and we use a portable lift that works very well, and I can go right from my bed right into a bathroom, or, you know, shower area and go down into a shower chair and shower. And the house is all one level, there really aren't any barriers in my way, except the door thresholds, which are kind of a pain in the ass, but, you know what there's, you know what, if you get this injury, there's going to be a lot of things that are a pain in your ass, you know you, you just have to deal with them. And I have a very, very large van. You know, sometimes I feel very guilty for the resources that I have available to me that a lot people don't have. I was a police officer, and I was injured in the line of duty. And basically I'm, I'm a, workmen's comp case, and since the city is self insured, the city provides me for all of my care, which would only be appropriate or seems right. But I've been, like I said, very, very fortunate that I have these resources available to me, and I know it.
I actually had to depended on the Social Security Disability System, and that helped me through my hospital times, and actually getting out and getting refocused. And then once I got home, and strength came back, I went back to work.