Family of sick boy left with hefty medical bill during visit to Cobourg
Laurie and Wade McKeen of Cobourg hold their nephew Oscar on Thursday. Oscar and his twin brother John were in Canada with their mother when John developed critical heart problems. The family flew home to Spain on Thursday night. PETE FISHER/Northumberland Today
It was meant to be a summer of fun for Gloria McKeen and her twin sons John and Oscar.
Gloria was born and raised in Cobourg, but now resides in Spain with her husband Oscar and the boys, who are nearly three-years-old.
Gloria and Oscar met at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto and fell in love.
Oscar was from Spain, which is where the twins were born.
Gloria wanted to spend a few months this summer introducing the children to family members and showing the youngsters parts of Ontario.
But what started out as a fun summer has ended with the family leaving on a private jet back home to Spain after one of the twins developed critical health problems requiring a heart transplant.
What compounds the heartache is that the family didn’t think to get health insurance before traveling. They're facing an $80,000 bill for 14 days at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and a $72,000 bill for a private medical flight to Spain in hopes of finding a donor heart.
Gloria’s brother Wade and his wife Laurie of Cobourg have been trying to help as much as possible, as have other family members.
The jet was scheduled to leave Toronto's Pearson Airport on Thursday at 9 p.m.
Gloria and her children arrived in Cobourg on June 12 and everything was going fine.
But John seemed to develop a cold and they took him to the walk-in clinic in Port Hope approximately three weeks ago.
Gloria, who has a Bachelor of Science degree, still didn’t think things were quite right with her son and took him to Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg.
“They gave him a lot of fluids and kept him overnight and his little body swelled up like a balloon,” said Laurie McKeen.
“From there his heart couldn’t keep up with the fluid coming in, so they took him to Peterborough hospital.”
Numerous tests were done on the child, including an ultrasound. Medical staff determined his liver and heart were swollen and the child needed to be transferred to Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto.
A team from Sick Kids transferred John to the hospital in Toronto on Aug. 7.
Further tests were conducted on John who has been in the intensive care unit.
Days later in a meeting with medical staff Gloria was told that John’s heart was the problem and it was only operating at 15%.
But with medication to help the heart pump, staff at Sick Kids got his heart up to 30% where it was decided to change the medication.
“Within three hours it did a lot of damage to it and put his heart down to 5%.”
In short, “he needs a heart,” said John’s uncle, Wade.
“You get one chance where they take you off the drug where they see if the heart will keep pumping. Within three hours, it didn’t.”
Though, Wade’s sister is a Canadian citizen, the children aren’t. Wade explained it would take months for the children to become Canadian citizens where the costs would be covered and time is a luxury the child simply doesn’t have.
And until John becomes a Canadian citizen, he can’t even be on a waiting list for a heart transplant.
“Once the drug stops working and it will, you can run on a machine for about a year.”
“The option was to keep going for a Canadian citizenship, or, go back to Spain.”
Medical staff said to the family that John would most likely have a better chance of receiving a heart transplant in Spain because everyone automatically donates organs, unless you say no.
Wade says that it’s the opposite of Canada, and there are more organ donours in Spain.
With 14 days spent in Sick Children’s Hospital costing $80,000 and a private jet with medical team the cost for the family is $152,000.
Through family and friends and borrowing money the family has come up with the $72,000 for the jet to Spain, but are still on the hook for the medical fees.
The family is trying to do as much paperwork as possible, “but as of right now, the bill is on Gloria.”
“She has to worry about that on top of (the possibility of) losing her son,” said Laurie.
When the flight arrives in Madrid, they will still have to wait for a donor before surgery requiring them to move from their home which is hours away from the hospital.
“She would have never guessed that he had a heart problem,” said Wade.
“You never think something is going to happen until it does.”
Gloria teaches English in Spain and her husband works with horses.
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