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‘Why am I being punished?’ asks unemployed woman with health bills

Carmen Fernandes is looking for help paying back medical expenses (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

A 50-year-old with a long history of health problems is asking for help in paying off more than $40,000 in medical expenses.

Carmen Fernandes, who is unemployed and on financial assistance and receives additional help because of a disability, was saddled with the bill after a heart attack at Boston’s Logan International Airport in August.

Lightheadedness struck the St David’s resident shortly after she boarded a plane to return home having been to see specialists for an eye problem.

“I felt like I could not breathe,” she said. “I asked the flight attendants for some oxygen. They could not give it to me, but they called for the EMTs. They rushed me to the hospital.”

Cardiologists at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center found her heart was operating at 35 per cent capacity.

“I would have died right there on the plane,” she said

Doctors took four veins from behind her knee to repair her heart.

“I spent a week in the hospital,” she said. “From there I went to rehab. I came out of that on September 1 and flew back to Bermuda the next day.”

Ms Fernandes said the signs of a heart attack were there, but she had mistakenly attributed them to her Type 2 diabetes: the most noticeable was that she got winded easily, and had needed a wheelchair to get on the plane.

Back in Bermuda she was faced with the cost of her health crisis.

“HIP paid 60 per cent,” she said, “but I was left with a $40,000 co-pay, and the bills are still coming in. It will probably go up to $47,000. That is a lot of money.”

Ms Fernandes had already borrowed $8,000 from Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association after doctors here insisted she make the trip to Boston to see eye specialists last August.

Having repaid the medical charity she turned to them again, for help with her latest bill.

“They are not asking me to pay it right back, right away, they are giving me time to pay it,” said Ms Fernandes, who is asking the community for help.

For 19 years she worked at Hickory Stick, a deli which has closed. She was forced to quit in 2018 after she stepped on a screw at a construction site near her home. It led to an infection that almost took her foot.

Ms Fernandes spent three months at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital; her diabetes slowed the healing process down.

Initially she returned to work making sandwiches but soon had to quit.

“I was on my feet all day, and the wound was not healing,” she said. “Right now I am not doing anything. I am just focused on regrouping my health.”

She thought about starting a GoFundMe page to raise the funds for the LCCA but found she needed an American bank account to do so.

“It is very stressful to owe this money,” she said, adding that the pressure was exacerbated by the unexpected death of her 30-year-old daughter Ciara Martin in November, and the loss of her sister, Laura Brown, last week.

Her daughter left behind a nine-year-old and a three-year-old that Ms Fernandes is “trying to help care for”.

Her health is getting better. A combination of laser treatments and injections is helping her eyes. Worried that her retinas had detached, doctors here sent her to Boston.

“Doctors up there said they weren’t detached, and I did not need surgery,” she said.

Movement remains a problem for Ms Fernandes, who still gets winded easily.

“They say that was due to the open heart surgery,” she said. “Because they took the veins from behind my knee, my knee is always so stiff. I now walk with a pain.”

Sometimes her situation overwhelms her. When she cannot sleep at night, she puts on The Golden Girls, her daughter’s favourite television show.

“I don’t know what more I can do,” she said. “I just keep hitting my head against the wall thinking, ‘Why am I being punished?’ I am just looking for some type of support to go towards this. It is a mother’s cry for help. It is a horrible situation.”

She would eventually like to leave Bermuda and move to England where she could get better healthcare. But before that, she would like to pay off her debt to the LCCA.

“When my daughter died lots of people reached out to me to help with funeral expenses, but I turned it down,” she said. “People said I should have asked them to help with my medical bills. But I was not looking at it like that.”

Contact LCCA on www.lcca.bm; 292-1132.

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Published March 01, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated March 02, 2022 at 7:52 am)

‘Why am I being punished?’ asks unemployed woman with health bills

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