Karla Rodriguez didn’t know what was wrong, but something was definitely wrong. Her whole lower body was swollen, she was in pain and she was coughing.
Rodriguez, who lives in St. Anthony, checked into a local urgent care clinic on a Friday in late August. There, he was diagnosed with an ear infection.
Rodriguez – a full-time mother of two young children – worsened over the following weeks. She returned to the clinic, where the same doctor examined her a second time.
“(He) checked me, checked my eyes, and he’s like, ‘Uh…'” Rodriguez recalled. “He asked the nurse, ‘Do you see what I see?'”
The whites of his eyes were yellow, a sign of liver damage.
She soon learned that she had a life-threatening illness. Without treatment, Rodriguez would die — and she had no health insurance.
Rodriguez is a “dreamer” – an adult who was illegally brought to the United States as a child and received legal protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. .
She was 6 years old when her family brought her from Mexico to the United States.
Because she is a DACA recipient instead of a U.S. citizen, Rodriguez is not eligible for Medicaid in Idaho and is not eligible for premium subsidies on the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange. .
An estimated 2,760 people in Idaho were active DACA recipients as of March 2020, according to a report from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This included about 1,180 people in the Boise area.
About 39% of DACA recipients nationwide had no health insurance coverage in 2017, according to a report last year from the National Center for Children in Poverty. The vast majority of DACA recipients who had coverage got their insurance through benefits — their own or a family member’s.
Only California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia offered state-funded health insurance coverage to some or all DACA recipients beginning in 2021.
Medical treatment just out of reach
By the time Rodriguez returned to the urgent care clinic, she could barely walk, she said.
After her examination, the doctor sent her to Bingham Memorial Hospital in Blackfoot. She arrived around 9:30 p.m. and received painkillers and a CT scan. About five hours later, a doctor told her she had cancer and sent her to a larger hospital for further testing.
At just 26 years old, Rodriguez was diagnosed with multiple myelomaa cancer that most often attacks people decades older than Rodriguez.
“The doctor was really surprised, because (multiple myeloma) happens to older people,” Rodriguez said in a January interview. “My bones have holes, and I have other lesions in my heart, in my head, then in my lungs.”
Her liver is also three times larger than normal and has damage, she said.
With recent advances in cancer treatment, Rodriguez had options. She could receive radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or a bone marrow transplant to potentially save her life.
Hospitals are not required to provide free medical care to people who do not have an immediate medical emergency. And bone marrow transplants are among the most expensive medical procedures. Thus, much of the health care Rodriguez needed was out of reach until she could be secured.
Her best option was to get private health insurance, but her plan wouldn’t go into effect until January 1, four months after her diagnosis.
His sister created a GoFundMe fundraiser to help Rodriguez get health insurance and pay the bills that are already piling up.
In four months, the GoFundMe raised $1,135 of a goal of $30,000.
‘I got bills and bills and bills’
Rodriguez had visits to emergency care and two hospitals, numerous blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy of her spine, X-rays, CT scans and an echocardiogram, she told the Idaho Capital Sun. . And that’s just the medical care she received on the way to a diagnosis — before she could even begin treatment.
“I got bills and bills and bills,” Rodriguez said.
“I don’t even know,” she said.
She regularly calls health care providers and pays “a little, just so it doesn’t go to collections,” she said. She also paid thousands of dollars to healthcare providers as “down payments” on treatments.
Rodriguez has now undergone several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments and the disease itself ravaged his body. She underwent dental surgery to remove teeth, due to bone loss in her jaw. Her gums weren’t healing, so she underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Her ears started bleeding from the hyperbaric pressure, so she needed tubes inserted into her eardrums by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Rodriguez also has an 80-mile round trip to the Idaho Falls Cancer Center for chemotherapy. By mid-January, she had made this trip at least 36 times.
Rodriguez’s mother helps Rodriguez and his partner take care of their children.
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The light at the end of the tunnel: a bone marrow transplant
For the bone marrow transplant that could save his life, Rodriguez will go to Salt Lake City.
Her doctors told her to expect two transplants — often enough to put multiple myeloma into remission, according to the Mayo Clinic.
However, not every transplant is a one-day procedure. It is a process of harvesting stem cells from a patient, giving the patient intensive chemotherapy to kill their diseased bone marrow, and then replacing it with stem cells.
The process leaves a patient vulnerable to infection. With new bone marrow, their immune system resembles that of a newborn.
The health insurance plan she purchased has an annual maximum of $6,000 for medical care, a maximum of $1,500 for prescription drugs and a monthly premium of about $500 a month, he said. she declared.
It’s expensive, but it could have been worse. Before the Affordable Care Act, she likely would have been turned down for health insurance if she had applied after her first trips to the hospital in August. Cancer would have been a pre-existing condition.
“I was glad it could take me when I was already diagnosed,” she said.
On Thursday, Rodriguez was discharged from Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. She spent about two weeks hospitalized for intensive chemotherapy and monitoring. It was the first big step towards her transplant — preparing her body for stem cell harvesting, she said.
“It was difficult at first, but now we are almost seeing the end of the tunnel, with the process of bone marrow transplants starting,” she said.