Member faces nearly $250,000 in medical bills, “very thankful” for Brother’s Keeper, Kathryn Smucker, Elverson, Pennsylvania

Total eligible bills
Provider discounts
Total bills shared

I always knew that Jesus was beside me, and that gave me hope.

My husband, Drew, and I joined CHM in September 1996. Over the years, we had bills to submit but no serious injuries or sicknesses.

However, one weekend in July, I experienced stomach pain and nausea. After five days, I went to my family doctor. She ordered a CT scan, which showed a thickening of my small intestines and lesions on my liver; we were a little worried. An MRI showed that the lesions were nothing serious; however, we had no answers about my intestines. My doctor gave me antibiotics, which helped for a time.

My symptoms continued off and on through November, and I lost 35 pounds. As much as I dislike going to the hospital, I finally asked Drew to take me.

They admitted me and performed test after test to determine what was wrong. Over my week-long stay, I had no appetite and didn’t eat. I also struggled with my electrolyte levels because of Gitelman syndrome, a genetic condition that causes an imbalance of potassium, magnesium and calcium. I was constantly getting infusions.

The doctors agreed to discharge me once I could eat again. Nothing tasted good, but I managed to eat a little. I was discharged and went home weak, but okay—or so we thought. After six hours, I had the most horrible pain that I’d experienced in my life, and Drew rushed me back to the ER.

After the ER staff stabilized me, they once again admitted me to the hospital. The doctors performed more tests, but still found no answers. The only option remaining was exploratory surgery.

The surgeon called my husband twice during my surgery. The first call was to tell him that we made the right decision, since my lower abdomen was hard as a rock. The second call was to ask for permission to fit me with an ileostomy bag.

Surgery revealed a hole in my small intestine—this caused infection in two feet of my intestines. They removed four inches of the worst part and fitted me with the bag to let the remainder heal. I also had peritonitis—an infection in the lining of my abdominal wall—from my leaking digestive system.

I awoke from surgery feeling very sick and in extreme pain. Drew tried to encourage me the best he could, but I was struggling; I couldn’t imagine living with my waste coming out into a bag attached to my abdomen. After a few days, they discovered I had a pocket of fluid in my abdomen area. I had yet another procedure to drain that out.

Over the next two weeks, I fought to get well. I was nutritionally fed with TPN—total parenteral nutrition—and received infusions of magnesium, potassium and other electrolytes.

After three weeks in the hospital, I begged to go home—even though I wasn’t doing that great.

I had little energy to do anything on my own and needed someone with me at all times. I could only eat very small amounts of food, and swallowing my meds was a struggle. Two weeks after my release from the hospital, I was readmitted due to low electrolyte levels.

Once my levels were stabilized, I started improving and felt like eating again. What a wonderful experience after feeling sick for so long!

I returned home four days later. I went twice a week to the infusion center to get magnesium infusions, and continued doing so for the next year.

Four months after my original surgery, I had surgery to reverse the ileostomy. The procedure itself went well, but I had complications and was in and out of the hospital a few more times over a two-week period. Even so, my health improved, and it felt great to have my body back to somewhat normal.

My infusions gradually became less frequent, and I’ve now gone months without one. My magnesium levels are still on the low side, but that’s a condition I will continue to live with.

When you go through a health crisis like this, it not only affects you, but also your spouse and children. Our kids—ages 15, 17, 18, 19 and 22 at the time—didn’t know how to respond to seeing their mom so sick while they were going through their own teenage struggles.

Drew had to run his construction business while spending weeks at a time with me in the hospital. He played a huge part in my healing and took good care of me. He encouraged me—and maybe got tough with me a little—to fight to get better. His continuous love and care was a blessing.

We had tremendous support from our families and our church. What would we do without the family of God? They faithfully provided meals for my family, prayed for us and anointed me with oil. I received many uplifting visits, texts and phone calls.

Christian music was a particular blessing that encouraged me during the worst parts of my sickness. So many times in the ER or hospital, a song would play that would give me strength to go on. I always knew that Jesus was beside me, and that gave me hope.

When we first started receiving the hospital and doctor’s bills for my illness, it seemed slightly overwhelming. I had always submitted the medical bills before, but now I was too weak. A good friend helped the first couple of weeks until I could do it myself. We were able to get a 30 percent discount on all the bills, plus an extra 25 percent discount on some of the really large bills.

I really came to appreciate the CHM staff. They went the extra mile to encourage me and pray with me over the phone. We’re very thankful that we signed up for the Brother’s Keeper program, as my medical bills quickly exceeded $125,000. To date, CHM has shared nearly $250,000, after more than $185,000 in discounts. We praise God for this outpouring of love!

I’ve also been blessed with many cards and notes of encouragement from all over the country. A praying body of believers is a huge encouragement.

Going through an illness like this has taught me to be more sensitive to others experiencing hardship or sickness. It also makes me more aware of the power of prayer. I desire to be more intentional in praying for others and reaching out with words of encouragement.

We highly recommend CHM. We have the flexibility to choose our own doctors and hospitals, and our Personal Responsibility is almost always satisfied by the discounts we receive. Thank you, CHM, for being there for us!

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