Why was a brain surgery patient turned away?

1:55 PM, Jul 16, 2008   |    comments
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Bartow, Florida – Seeing your child suffer is the most painful emotion a parent can experience.

Sheila Jackson says she would gladly trade places with her daughter, Caitlin, who was recently diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation.

"As a parent, you wish first and foremost it was you instead, you know," Jackson says.

The destructive condition will rob her 19-year-old daughter of motor skills, memory and possibly one day, her life. For now, Caitlin has excruciating headaches and dangerous fainting spells. Her life as she knows it has come to a standstill.

"I constantly have to have somebody around me. I can't even stay at home for five minutes," Caitlin says.

With all the pain, there is still a peaceful expression on the face of Caitlin's mother. She says her faith is the only thing getting her through what can only be described as a nightmare.

Caitlin needs immediate surgery for her condition, and she was hours away from getting it.

The problem? Her insurance company, Aetna. They approved the operation 15 minutes too late. Caitlin lost the operating room to another patient and had to be rescheduled.

Then, the company came back with an even bigger shocker. They told her they would not cover her brain surgery at all, that her benefits ran out.

The family would now have to foot the bill at a staggering $113,000. Tampa General Hospital was requiring $55,000 down, and the rest after the operation.

Caitlin, who had just graduated from massage therapy school, had three job offers and was working as a Disney photographer, is now putting her life on hold. "I just have told myself. I have to get through this. I have to pray my way through it."

While the family is talking with lawyers about appealing the insurance company's decision, Aetna is now actively reviewing Caitlin's case.

The 19-year-old remains optimistic, even though she often breaks down in tears.

"We're trying to get it worked out because the surgery is July 21st, and they're not going bump me until they know I'm not going get it paid for."

Melanie Brooks, Tampa Bay's 10 News

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