A U.K. family is on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars — and counting — after their dad got sick before and during a family visit in Calgary.
Max Verlander told Global News his dad David started feeling ill on Dec. 21, 2022 while at London’s Heathrow Airport.
“He had a little bit of a cough when we set off — nothing major,” Verlander said.
“But about five to six hours into the flight, he started to feel really, really unwell.”
Verlander said the WestJet flight crew, as well as a nurse onboard, helped his dad stabilize until they landed.
“They put him on oxygen for the remainder of the flight,” he said.
The 59-year-old father of four made it to Calgary, where he was assessed by paramedics at the airport. Verlander said they were told he could be taken to hospital or see a doctor the next day. He said his father agreed to go see a doctor and was prescribed antibiotics for a chest infection.
However, four days later, on Christmas morning, he said his dad got much worse.
“He just deteriorated completely,” Verlander said.
“He was in absolute agony.”
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Verlander was taken to Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary, where he was then admitted and placed in the intensive care unit.
The family was hoping he would be released the next day, but then received the news that he was in very rough shape. Verlander said his dad is not only fighting various viral and bacterial lung infections, but he now has some kidney failure and needs dialysis.
“Hopefully we see him wake up soon,” he said. “Because honestly, that is the toughest part. Going back every day, we’re seeing no change.”
What the family is seeing is an ever-growing medical bill.
As of Tuesday, it had already topped $85,000.
“We dread to think, we try not to think about it, but it could easily approach a quarter-of-a-million dollars.”
Daughter Olivia Verlander has been watching this all unfold from across the pond.
She told Global News her dad looked into travel insurance but found the cost too high. She also said he thought he was getting over a cold and wouldn’t get any worse. She added the family was reassured that even if he did, he would be covered by the credit card used to book the trip.
“I don’t think it crossed any of our minds that anything would go wrong, and we thought we had that backup anyway,” she said.
“We obviously were devastated to find out that wasn’t the case,” Max Verlander said. “And it was too late. It was too late.”
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Omar Kaywan is with Goose Insurance out of B.C. It’s an insurance company and app “made by Canadians for Canadians,” specializing in travel insurance.
Kaywan told Global News that travellers should not rely on any kind of credit card when it comes to medical travel insurance.
“First of all, it has a lot of exclusions and limitations,” he said.
Kaywan pointed out some of those include an age limit, a trip length limit and coverage limits or exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
“The credit card company offers the same policy to everybody, so it’s not specific to your health condition.”
Goose Insurance said it is very important to get travel medical insurance, but it should be tailored to the traveller.
Kaywan conceded that may cost more — but it’s worth it.
“God forbid if you get sick unexpectedly or you have an accident. You are on the hook, or financially responsible for those medical bills — unless you have travel medical insurance,” he said.
“For the price that you pay for travel medical insurance versus the potential savings and financial protection you get — it’s absolutely worth it.”
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Help to pay mounting bills
Global News reached out to the Alberta government to see if David Verlander is eligible for any kind of help with the mounting hospital bills.
A spokesperson with Alberta Health Services said, as is the case in any province, public health insurance coverage is provided only to insured residents. AHS went on to say that is similar to many other countries.
The spokesperson also encouraged visitors to Alberta to obtain travel medical insurance before coming.
“Urgent and emergency care will be provided, however, the individual remains responsible for all costs.”
The Verlander family has also reached out to the British embassy in Canada, but said it too could not help.
The family has now started a GoFundMe campaign hoping to get some help. It has received donations from across the city as well as from across Canada and the U.K.
The family told Global News it is grateful for strangers stepping up to help their father.
“This has been a harsh, harsh lesson for us, but we just take it a day at a time.”
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