Finances hinder woman’s quest for a new heart
Editor’s note: This story by Frances Womble will appear in Healthy Living on Sunday, April 8.
BY FRANCES WOMBLE
Henrietta Propps of Fredericksburg needs a new heart. But her 25-year history of heart failure isn’t enough to get her a spot on the transplant waiting list.
Due to an insurance limit and gaps in Medicaid coverage, Propps needs at least $6,000 to be eligible to be placed on the transplant list, her family and doctor said.
The amount is beyond her means, so the family is hoping a series of fundraisers will help, said Propps’ daughter, Virginia Bradshaw.
Propps is a deserving transplant candidate, said Dr. Sandeep Kamath, Propps’ cardiovascular surgeon at the U.Va. Medical Center. But transplant patients must be able to cover the cost of anti-rejection medicines, which are necessary for a transplant to succeed.
“It makes things very difficult,” he said. “We’ve been doing everything we can to buy her time to become a candidate.”
SAME DEVICE AS CHENEY
Propps had her first heart attack at 37 years old—when Bradshaw, her daughter, was just 6. Since then, it’s been an uphill battle.
“It’s been in and out of the hospital since,” Bradshaw said. “In and out.”
After two decades of heart trouble, Propps got a pacemaker. Then, two years later, she got an left ventricular assist device, which helps the heart pump blood. It’s the same device former Vice President Dick Cheney had before undergoing a heart transplant late last month.
While the LVAD is a lifesaver in helping the heart to pump, adjusting to it isn’t easy. For it to work, Propps must either plug it into an outlet or carry a battery pack with her at all times. Without electricity, her heart will stop pumping.
‘NOTHING WE COULD DO’
A heart transplant is the next step for many LVAD patients. But for a transplant to succeed, patients need to take medication that keeps their bodies from rejecting the new organ, Kamath said.
“These medicines are not cheap, and there aren’t always generics,” he said. “Sometimes they are hundreds of dollars a month. We don’t want any interruption in medication.”
That’s why Propps’ doctors want her to raise money before putting her on the transplant list—they want to make sure she can afford the medicines needed to help her body embrace a new heart.
Propps understands the logic of making sure new hearts go to people who can cover the cost of the medicines.
“There are people out there who can afford the medications and can use the heart,” Propps said.
But the family is struggling—both with the emotion challenge of seeing Propps ill and with the financial obstacles to getting her the best treatment.
Propps was a stay-at-home mom, Bradshaw said. Propps’ husband worked but retired early from his job as a forklift mechanic after a bad car accident.
“A car hit him going 60 miles per hour,” Bradshaw said. “He has permanent back damage.”
Propps had health insurance through her husband’s job. But his insurance policy had a cap of $1 million for retirees, she said. More than half of the money was gone after Propps received her first LVAD. The remainder was spent on medications, appointments and a replacement LVAD after infection set in, requiring the first device to be removed.
Propps’ family had hoped she’d regain coverage after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama. One element of the act ends lifetime price caps on insurance policies.
But a financial coordinator at U.Va. investigated the situation, said Bill Potts, Propps’ social worker at U.Va. The coordinator learned there was a clause that allowed the insurance company’s lifetime limit on Propps’ policy to stand, Potts said.
“They were grandfathered in,” Propps said. “There is nothing we could do about it.”
Propps and her husband now rely on Social Security and disability payments to pay health bills. To help alleviate Propps’ rising medical fees, Potts helped her apply for Medicaid, a health care program for those with low incomes. The application process must be repeated every six months, and the entire process can take up to 45 days.
Since there can be periods of time without coverage as the family waits for coverage to be verified, Propps has been told to raise at least $6,000 to make sure she’ll be able to pay for post-transplant drugs.
Bradshaw, who works at a jewelry store, said she knows this amount means different things to different people.
“There are diamonds worth more than $6,000,” she said. “But to us, it’s a lot of money.”
So the family is hard at work trying to raise the money. Last weekend, Bradshaw held a yard sale, and the family now has about half of the necessary money. According to a Bradshaw, a friend’s son offered to donate all of the change in his piggy bank.
“We definitely appreciate everybody’s help,” said Propps’ son, Leon Propps. “It’s amazing in this day and age that people are still willing to help.”
“Nobody will ever know how much I appreciate all the work everyone is doing for me,” Propps said. “If it wasn’t for that, there would be no way I would ever be able to afford it on my own.”
‘COMMITTED TO SURVIVING’
Despite the hardships, Kamath said Propps keeps a positive attitude.
“She’s such a sweet lady,” the doctor said. “She’s a trouper. She’s committed to surviving and eventually regaining a functional life.”
Kamath credited the family’s efforts as well.
“The family has done everything we’ve asked them to do, which is certainly difficult,” he said.
Kamath said that once Propps is placed on the transplant list, the wait won’t be over.
“The average wait time is now over six months,” he said. “We would have her at the highest status because of her recurrent issues of infection. Even with that, we’re looking at the order of several months.”
Propps is hopeful.
“I’ve got too much to fight for to give up,” she said.
SIDEBAR: FUNDRAISING DETAILS
You can learn more about Henrietta Propps’ heart condition and fundraising needs at helphopelive.org. Formerly known as the National Transplant Assistance Fund, Help Hope Live helps patients raise money for medical bills through online donations and the promotion of fundraising events.
An event for Propps will be held at Chili’s near Spotsylvania Towne Centre on April 20. Visit helphopelive.org for more details about this and other upcoming events.
Frances Womble: 540/374-5444