Story #5 - Malignant Cardiogenic Syncope
My name is Barbara Ollmann. I was born at the Naval Base on Guam in 1960. We lived in Guam briefly after my birth. My father was serving in the Air Force at that time, and we lived in base housing. During our time there, the military used Agent Orange to clear the vegetation from sidewalks, roads, and runways, including in the military housing areas. This exposed my family and me to this chemical. So, I was exposed to this in utero and as an infant.
I was born with a condition called Malignant Cardiogenic Syncope. Basically (laymen’s terms), my blood pressure drops to dangerous levels, and my heart does not speed up to compensate, but instead slows down, causing my heart to stop. This condition worsens when I experience high stress situations or when I feel anxiety. As a child, the simple act of startling me would cause me to pass out. My siblings thought this was funny and would do it as a joke. As I grew up, the problem became worse. Finally, I was diagnosed and a pacemaker was placed. The procedure for placing a pacemaker is extremely expensive, and must be performed regularly because the batteries eventually die. My pacemaker works on demand and not constantly. I also have to take medication to keep my blood pressure high enough to keep me alive and blood flowing to my organs and limbs.
In 2000, I had to have my pacemaker replaced. I had no insurance at this time due to pre-existing conditions, and the surgery was $275,000, which includes hospital, anesthesiologist, surgeon, pacemaker, etc. I did not have the money to pay this, so waited for my pacemaker to die (this caused my heart to stop 7 times in one week). I was then able to have the surgery done under emergency basis. As with any surgery, I had to have pre-surgery blood work. The blood work showed some abnormal liver counts, and I was told to follow up after being released from the hospital. I had to pay out of pocket for the appointment with an endocrinologist to find out why my liver counts were off. He performed a liver biopsy, which again was out of pocket, and discovered I had Stage 1 liver cancer. Now, I consider myself blessed that this was discovered, but again, I had no insurance. The cancer treatment (4 years’ worth) cost more a month than what my husband and I made was all out of pocket. Due to the mountain of medical bills, we ended up having to file bankruptcy so that we would not lose our home.
The ACA was literally a lifeline for me. It has covered my medications, which would cost me approximately $1000 a month without insurance, and covered my numerous surgeries over the past 5 years. It has also covered for the replacement of my pacemaker and related expenses. I have had 10 surgeries in my life (this is lumping all pacemaker surgeries as only 1 surgery). Six of those surgeries have been covered, but the others were out of pocket.
I was eligible for high risk health insurance before the ACA became law, but back in 2000, that insurance would have cost me $1500 a month for just me, required me to pay $6000 out of pocket before they would cover anything, and then only pay 80% after the deductible was met with no maximum out of pocket for me. It also had a lifetime limit of $1 million, which as you can see, would only cover a few pacemaker surgeries, leaving me nothing for any other illnesses that I may get.
I currently suffer from 12 different medical conditions that prevent me from working. I am in constant pain and suffer from PTSD. If I lose my insurance, I will literally die as I cannot even fathom what it would cost now for a replacement pacemaker.
Universal healthcare is the only answer to ensure that no one goes without the treatment they need. No one should ever have to choose whether to see a doctor or pay for food or shelter.