6-year-old SWFL boy survives cancer, family faces growing medical bills

Last month, 6-year-old Joey Jones rang the cancer victory bell at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Two years ago, doctors did not know if Joey would make it to this point in his life. Doctors had diagnosed him with Pre B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — the most common type of cancer in children affecting their white blood cells.

“You go to sleep at night hoping you’re going to wake up from a nightmare,” said Steph Jones, Joey’s mother.

Joey’s mom documented his journey along the way.

And his father, Joseph Jones, who works in Southwest Florida’s health industry, said the daily stress of Joey’s illness was constantly enhanced by the medical costs that compiled while he was being treated.

“The bills were $529,000, and who knows how much after that?” Joseph said.

And Joey’s mom and dad have been out of work taking care of Joey, working toward a solution to pay for the mounting medical bills.

“We’re still $31,000 out of pocket just for the medical bills,” Joseph said.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology reports average annual costs of hospitalization for pediatric ALL has increased over the past 15 years. Management of room, care and nursing and pharmacy costs are a big portion of that.

Caitlin Donovan with the National Patient Advocate Foundation said some people go bankrupt because of medical debt. And she warns about further risks for people who declare bankruptcy.

“If you do declare bankruptcy, that’s going to be another hole you have to dig out of,” Donovan said.

It can hurt an individual’s credit score if medical bills are not monitored and paid on time.

On the other hand, if an individual’s insurance company won’t pay for treatments that someone thinks it should, Donovan said there are recourse options.

“You can make appeals to your insurer, exhaust all of your appeals,” Donovan said. “You’re usually allowed three.”

And the Jones family said there shouldn’t be fear involved making personal appeals.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Steph said.

Like many other patients with medical debt, the Jones family is hosting a fundraiser to raise money to assist them to pay medical costs. They are holding the fundraiser at Palm City Brewing Saturday in south Fort Myers. The family says all proceeds will directly go toward paying for medical expenses and long-term care for Joey.

Joey faces follow-up appointments, and his family has more bills in the year to come. But the main focus is much more important for the Jones family.

“We’re just trying to get Joey caught up in life,” Joseph said. “He’s had two years stolen from him.”

MORE: PrayForJoey Fundraiser event 

Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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