CLEVELAND (WJW) — To celebrate her birthday and their anniversary, Michelle Smith of Parma and her husband Mark planned a tropical getaway to Cancún, Mexico, in Early October.
Just weeks before, however, she injured herself falling down stairs.
Following surgery, Michelle was cleared to travel, but just one day into their trip she started feeling ill.
“Sunday night she said she wasn’t feeling well, so she went to bed Sunday night. Monday morning, her husband Mark went to go wake her up at like 8:30 in the morning to start their day and she was unresponsive. She wasn’t getting up,” said Jordan Nakonieczny, the Smiths’ daughter.
Her husband called for an ambulance which transported Michelle to a local hospital, but they soon learned that their U.S. medical insurance was not accepted out of the country — so they would be required to pay cash for the ambulance ride and the hospital stay.
“He did not have that cash so essentially they kicked them out and said, ‘We are going to take you somewhere else.’ They got into another ambulance and he was forced to pay for the ambulance from out-of-pocket cash, which he did, and when they got to the second hospital, they just took her back there and was not letting her husband see her at all and they didn’t speak English at all,” said Nakonieczny.
For seven days, Smith stayed in a hospital where they diagnosed that she was suffering from a blood infection from the surgical site from a broken arm.
Her daughter said they were not equipped to treat Smith at that hospital, where she later also experienced seizures.
So the priority became trying to get her onto an air ambulance to fly her back to the United States.
“We called insurances, we called air ambulance, we called the U.S. Embassy, we called everybody we could to get an idea of what we could do, because her insurance said they would not take it because she was out of the country,” said Nakonieczny.
The flight alone cost more than $20,000.
Ultimately able to borrow the money from the life savings of a relative, they were able to fly Michelle to a Florida hospital, where insurance will help pay for the medical care. But expenses for her husband’s hotel stays and rental cars continue to mount.
From their nightmare, Nakonieczny strongly suggests everyone leaving the United States consider getting travel insurance.
“We were very much caught off-guard. We were hoping insurance would cover it,” she said.
Fairlawn travel agent Derek Chima said he strongly recommends the insurance to all of his customers.
“Personal insurance here does not cover you overseas, so travel insurance, some type of travel insurance, is always recommended and can help,” he said.
“The coverage is while you are traveling — how much medical expenses are covered. And, you know, flight delays things like that can vary by the policy, but something is always recommended because you never know what can happen,” he added.