Fund provides help for sick children

August 08, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

On Aug. 23 last year, in the middle of the night, Cathy and Tim Carter's year-old son, Timothy, had a severe asthma attack.

They rushed him to the hospital in time -- but as the days passed and Timothy remained in the hospital, the couple wondered how they would ever pay his mounting medical bills.

Mr. Carter, a construction worker, had no health insurance. Mrs. Carter, a medical secretary, had left her job to care for her son after he developed severe asthma at the age of 5 months.

During that episode, Timothy spent three days in the hospital. After his breathing improved, Mrs. Carter said, she begged the pediatrician to release him from the hospital because she was frantic about the bill.

"We were very stressed-out over the fact that this was going to cost us money that we didn't have," she said.

But Timothy's doctor, Charles Ashburn, suggested the family contact the Carroll County Children's Fund, a local volunteer group that helps county families devastated by children's medical bills.

The fund came to the Carters' rescue. It paid off Timothy's $1,200 hospital bill. As a cooperative effort, Dr. Ashburn wrote off part of his bill.

Relieved of hospital and doctor bills, the Carters were able to use their own money to buy a $275 machine and medicines that allow Timothy to be treated at home, before attacks become severe.

"It was a big relief," Mrs. Carter said. "It was a constant worry whether he was going to get sick again before we could pay off the bill."

Mr. Carter said, "When I found out they were going to pay for that bill, it was like a ton of bricks off my shoulder."

Eileen Johnson, vice president of the fund, said, "It was established 10 years ago to try to assist families who fall through the cracks. They make too much money to be eligible for Medical Assistance, yet get these medical bills they really cannot pay."

She said the fund is the brainchild of Dr. Karl Green, a local pediatrician, who decided something needed to be done to help Carroll County families who could not afford medical care for their children.

In the past fiscal year, she said, the fund helped 16 families. Its annual budget is $20,000 to $25,000.

She said the fund tries first to refer applicants to other sources of help, such as Medical Assistance, or groups organized to aid sufferers of particular diseases.

Ms. Johnson said the fund is the only one like it she knows of in the United States, and she frequently receives inquiries from people interested in imitating it elsewhere.

It doesn't take a catastrophic illness to run up a large bill.

"Sometimes it can be something as simple as a sudden attack of appendicitis, with no health insurance," said Dr. Ashburn, who -- has worked with the fund for about seven years.

The fund pays hospital bills and related expenses, such as tests and special equipment.

It does not pay doctors' bills. Instead, it tries to get doctors to write off part of their bills.

The fund's money comes from private donations, churches, service clubs, businesses and an annual fund-raising dinner.

This year, the dinner will be held Sept. 15 at Martin's in Westminster. Author Tom Clancy will be featured as speaker.

Tickets for the prime rib dinner cost $25 and can be obtained by calling Ms. Johnson at 549-7421.

Applying for help from the fund was "very simple, very easy," Mrs. Carter said.

"I filled out one form, which was very simple," she said.

"They don't make you feel inadequate or poor," Mrs. Carter said. "Their best interest really is the children."

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