Friday, August 26, 2011

Paralysis Opens ER Doc's Eyes To Enormous Costs, New Technology In Fight To Walk

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the the third article in a three-part series about Dr. Gary Witman, an emergency room doctor at Good Samaritan Medical Center, who last summer lost the use of his arms and legs after a rogue wave paralyzed him while at the beach.
Links to previous articles and Dr. Witman's personal blog are below.

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Nearly a year since the accident that has left him paralyzed from the neck down, Good Samaritan emergency room Dr. Gary Witman has had his voice return after vocal cord damage and just Wednesday afternoon he was able to move his thumb—a seemingly small, but enormous feat during what is expected to be years and decades of therapy that will coincide with battles with health insurance representatives for costly programs Witman will need to regain whatever movement in his body he can.
“The first thing they say is ‘No,’ You have to fight for everything,” said Dee Dee exasperatingly when she talks about paying for Gary’s extensive, and expensive medical care during the initial two months of recovery and a year’s worth of subsequent rehabilitation that began last fall when Gary was flown from Massachusetts to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado—one of the few spinal cord rehabilitation facilities in the U.S.
They would have loved to stay in Boston at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, well-known for physical and rehabilitative therapies, but Spaulding, Gary said, offers general care and he needed specialized treatment offered at Craig, and other centers like Shepherd Center in Atlanta or Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in New Jersey. 4k3BqJaYF_Y/s1600/wedding2.JPG">
The Witmans—through help from family and friends--now have a handicapped van which they have used to travel to Los Angeles for daughter Samantha’s wedding, a week later to Philadephia for another wedding and Toronto, Canada for business reasons, and Baltimore, Maryland for a month-long battery of intensive therapies at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Last fall when Gary had to leave Brigham and Women’s in Boston for Colorado for physical rehabilitation, the only available option was a medical evacuation flight via jet plane.
“It cost $18,000 to fly him to Colorado,” Dee Dee exclaimed. The flight was denied at first.
“What was he supposed to do? Take a bus," she said.
If an $18,000 flight wasn’t enough, during the 21 days Gary was in Brigham and Women’s surgical ICU it cost $15,000 per day, or about $315,000.
After countless phone calls and the help of Susan Brown, the benefits manager for Good Samaritan, the flight to Colorado was assured, however the battle over payments, Gary’s eligibility for government medical programs, and their desire to attain the best services, therapies, technology and rehabilitative programs—traditional or experimental--is expected to be a life-long, day-to-day battle.
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