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Saving an expat baby abroad: The benefits of emergency medical evacuation

A young family living in a foreign country.

A new baby with urgent, complex medical needs. A mother of four trying to negotiate an unfamiliar health care system in a different language with her husband thousands of miles away on assignment. A perfect storm requiring just the right lifeboat.

Struggling from birth

From the day he was born, William struggled with health issues. His family had moved from the United States to Germany so that his father, Daniel, could work on assignment. Daniel’s extensive Middle Eastern travels meant that his wife, Melissa, was largely on her own trying to address William’s serious medical needs whilst caring for his three siblings.

Support on all fronts

Early on, hospital staff realised they couldn’t adequately manage William’s conditions. They wanted to transfer him to another hospital — yet Melissa was having difficulty understanding their assessments and recommendations. As an Aetna International member, she knew she could turn to our Care Response and Excellence (CARE) team for support. She reached out and was connected to Mark Ebbrell on our CARE management team for help when her baby was just 12 days old.

Mark communicated with medical staff throughout the process of airlifting William to a different German hospital for evaluation. He was also instrumental in helping obtain medical reports — something that isn’t necessarily provided easily in certain regions — and getting them translated so that all care would be covered. He stayed in touch with doctors and the family to make sure things were going well.

Help at home

Once William was considered stable enough to be discharged, Mark worked with the local medical community to smooth his transition to the family’s temporary home. He handled approvals for medical equipment and arrangements for visiting nurses to teach Melissa how to provide for his care. He also ensured that William had the standby medical support needed to prevent unnecessary re-hospitalisation and that family members had key social support to get them through trying times.

Cutting red tape

Whilst the couple was extremely grateful for their son’s medical care, they were frustrated by ongoing issues with provider bills. They received invoices in German from providers unaccustomed to dealing with international health insurance companies and even received letters from collection agencies.

Mark assured them that he would take care of these issues so that they could concentrate on their family’s well-being. He asked them to forward all bills to him and negotiated with one of the out-of-network hospitals to accept direct billing. He stayed on top of every bill and claim to make sure the costs were covered.

The journey back

Finally, the family was ready to head back home to the U.S. Mark obtained a ‘fit to fly’ certificate and confirmed with the airline that it would allow inflight monitoring, suction and oxygen medical devices. He also set up contingency plans for an ambulance and medical escort if needed.

Working with Muhammad Al-haddad in our Americas office to get William situated in the U.S., Mark arranged for German-to-English translation of medical notes and an assessment at a renowned American children’s hospital.

A sigh of relief

William spent much of his early life — 119 days — in hospital, including 40 in the intensive care unit. Today, the couple is happy to report that their now two-year-old has not needed to return to hospital for more than six months. And they credit that peace of mind in large part to Mark’s dedication.

Mark says the entire experience was more than just part of his job to him.

“The family shared William’s Facebook page with me so that I could see him and put a face to his name,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I’m a father…maybe because my son is also named William…but this case really consumed me at times professionally. I tried to act as the family’s advocate when they faced difficulties, dead ends and bad news. It’s good to be closing this case on a positive note, which seemed so far away back in 2015.”

As an Aetna International member, you can count on our CARE team when you or your loved ones need one-to-one support. If you’d like to learn more about our health and wellness services for expats, get in touch with one of our expert consultants.

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