Kenyan family remains grateful despite harrowing health insurance disaster
Posted by Administrator on April 8, 2012
EDMONTON – Any day now, Richard Nyaribo expects a medical bill to land in the mail slot just outside his Mill Woods apartment. He has no way of paying.
Nyaribo isn’t sure exactly what he owes the Cross Cancer Institute, but he expects it could be anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000.
“Up to now, nothing has come, but I am expecting something, I am expecting something,” Nyaribo, 38, said Saturday with a grim laugh.
“I’m thinking they may have forgiven us, but I don’t know.”
His life was radically different two years ago, when he and his wife had a home and were raising an infant son, Joshua.
In May 2010, Nyaribo’s 70-year-old mother Jerusa arrived from Kenya to visit and help take care of her new grandson.
Just before she was set to return home a half-year later, she began experiencing mild stomach pains.
A trip to the nearby Dominion Medical Centre led to tests, more tests, and the terrorizing diagnosis of colon cancer.
Making matters worse, her travel health insurance had expired a few weeks earlier. The family had to pay for everything, including the tests, surgery, recovery and chemotherapy.
Costs quickly spiralled out of control. A colonoscopy set them back $2,200, a CT scan cost $1,500.
Those bills were paltry compared to the five-day surgical stay at Grey Nuns Hospital, followed by a week at the Cross Cancer Institute.
They didn’t have deep pockets. Nyaribo keeps books for L’Arche Association of Edmonton, a Catholic not-for-profit organization that cares for intellectually delayed adults in homes rather than institutions.
He shared his troubles with his boss, Sister Pat Desnoyers, who contacted the Journal. After an article just before Christmas 2010, donations and prayers flooded in.
Nyaribo marvels at two checks, each for $10,000 — one from someone he didn’t know — along with dozens of smaller gifts. All told, he1 received nearly $35,000, mostly from people connected with L’Arche.
“We were very, very touched by what happened,” Nyaribo said. “I just didn’t know what to believe. I hear of miracles, to me that’s a miracle.”
The generosity continued as treatments began. Doctors quietly forgave bills, volunteering to see Jerusa for free.
Two months into treatment at the Cross Cancer Institute, fees were getting waived.
But the existing bills were still daunting. Additional MRI scans and X-rays each cost about $2,000, each visit to a specialist cost over $500, eight rounds of chemotherapy totalled another $6,500.
Jerusa’s condition worsened. She developed mouth sores and couldn’t swallow her saliva, let alone eat.
Chemotherapy was stopped, and at one point, doctors asked Nyaribo about his mother’s last wishes. “We almost lost her,” he said.
After a difficult stretch when Jerusa was hospitalized for 10 days, Nyaribo returned to an empty home. His wife had left, taking little Joshua with her.
They now share joint custody of their son, with Nyaribo taking him on weekends. He sold the house to pay the bills, moving into a sparely furnished apartment.
But things began to turn around for Jerusa. A blood transfusion saved her life. Chemo levels were fine-tuned. In February, she was well enough to return to Kenya.
She still had a tumour on her stomach when she left, deemed benign by doctors. Another tumour on her back couldn’t be biopsied, but was shrinking.
Nyaribo doesn’t trust doctors in Kenya, who tell his mother her stomach tumour is cancerous and in need of surgery, even without a biopsy. They’ve seen records of her Canadian treatment, he worries, and may be trying to extract money from the family.
Even with the ongoing health worries, Nyaribo said he’s grateful to still have his mom, who might not have lived if she hadn’t visited.
They talk each week, with Nyaribo passing the phone to Joshua, who turns three in May. Jerusa calls her grandson “doctor,” hoping that he can one day help others.
She’s a devout Seventh-day Adventist who raised 10 children of her own. Nyaribo said it’s fitting generous strangers have helped his mother, who took in orphans and distant relatives without complaint.
He had less than $100 when he arrived in Canada in 2000. Despite the many bills and other setbacks, he still calls himself lucky.
“I think I’m a better person now,” Nyaribo said. “I still pray every day. Every day when I wake up, I give thanks for the day, I give thanks for Joshua.”
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