Sisterly devotion fueling push to get ill man home

Stroke victim from Bel Air languishing in Indonesia

cost, red tape delay move

October 19, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

Ten years older than his sister Denise, Dennis Storm doted on her as they grew up. But now it is the younger Storm attempting to care for the elder, as she struggles to bring the ailing war veteran home from a hospital in Indonesia.

Denise Storm was named after her brother. Her parents thought the boy would become more talkative if he had a like-named sister. The two grew extremely close.

"He spoiled me rotten," she said.

When Denise was in seventh grade, Dennis came back to the Storms' home in Chicago after the first of his two tours in Vietnam - with a Silver Star earned for saving eight men from a burning helicopter - and appeared in a huge assembly at Denise's school. "I was just so proud that he was my brother," she said.

Now Dennis, 57, lies in a hospital in Jakarta, fighting for his life since suffering a stroke Sept. 2. He has had two brain surgeries and has contracted bacterial pneumonia and a fungal infection.

A neurologist at Siloam Gleneagles Lippo Cikarang hospital in Jakarta acknowledged in a letter Oct. 8 that the hospital is unable to treat his condition because of its limited facilities.

Dennis Storm owns and operates Gray Wolf Consulting, an engineering business run out of his home in Bel Air. It is not unusual for him to spend time in Southeast Asia, where he has consulted on several petroleum purification projects. He was consulting for the Singapore-based Enviroforce company at the time of his stroke.

Ikbal Ahkmed, Storm's Australian girlfriend of several years, had called him after work and became alarmed when he weakly answered the phone. Using her cell phone, she called an ambulance that took Storm to Gleneagles. Doctors there confirmed that he had suffered a stroke.

Storm's family was told that Gleneagles was the best hospital Jakarta had to offer. But later they learned the great disparity between Indonesian and American health care facilities.

Dr. Myles Druckman, vice president for medical assistance at International SOS, a worldwide organization that provides medical assistance for travelers, said Gleneagles is the best hospital in Indonesia, but it does not provide care expected of U.S. hospitals.

Training of doctors and nurses, availability of drugs, equipment and hygiene in Indonesia fail to meet American standards, he said.

Ahkmed waits by Storm's side daily, reading his vital statistics. He developed pneumonia a week after he was admitted. Doctors drain fluid from his lungs daily, his sister said. He also has bed sores and fades in and out of consciousness.

Going into debt

For a time, Enviroforce paid Storm's medical bills, but now it says it will go bankrupt if it continues to support him, according to Denise Storm. She has opened a $30,000 line of credit at the hospital to cover care costs for what she hopes will be two weeks more if he cannot get into the U.S.

"It's just a cascading horror story," said Rob Crause, Denise Storm's former husband, who lives in Bel Air.

Denise Storm, who also lives in Bel Air, and her sister, Sharon Storm-Brown of North Carolina, have undertaken the struggle to bring their brother back to the United States for medical care. The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way and Make a Wish Foundation are among the organizations they have contacted. Dennis Storm's family also includes his mother, whom he supports in Bel Air, his four children and three grandchildren.

Getting federal help

Denise Storm said the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore has agreed to admit her brother upon arrival to Baltimore, which is a relief to the family since he does not have health insurance.

Denise Storm said that with the help of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who is the ranking member of the Senate's Subcommittee of Veteran Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies, a resolution was sent to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to use military resources to send her brother home.

Mikulski's office declined to comment, saying rules would not permit them to discuss Storm's situation.

The Defense Department denied the proposal initially, but approved it when it was resubmitted. The Navy must also approve the allocation of its resources to transport Storm.

In the meantime, the Storm family went ahead to arrange transportation through International SOS. That organization can put Storm on a commercial flight from Jakarta to Baltimore and initially gave a cost of $42,000.

On Thursday, Denise Storm withdrew $58,500 from her retirement plan to cover the cost of the plane and subsequent financial penalties and taxes that she will incur if she must use SOS's services. She intends to raise money, but on Friday, she received word from SOS that it was raising the price by $10,000.

"That's money, which, frankly, I don't have," she said.

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