A Trip They’ll Never Forget

The following story was featured in the Fall 2019 issue of the OneSpirit Magazine.

When Janie Kehler was planning a cruise to Cozumel and Cancun with her son, daughter and son-in-law, she hoped it would be a trip of a lifetime. Little did she know that she’d always remember this trip for very different reasons. Instead of happy memories of sand and surf, Janie is thanking God for his provision over her son’s life.

Within the first 24 hours of boarding the ship, her son, Chase, a healthy and strong 22-year-old college student, became sick in the night with stomach cramps. Even though Chase wasn’t feeling well, they set out on a scuba diving expedition. He became increasingly ill, and they eventually took him to the ship’s doctor for an evaluation.

“Chase was running a very high fever, so they did bloodwork and imaging and determined he had acute appendicitis and an abscess. The doctor told us he needed immediate surgery and would make arrangements to get us off the boat,” remembers Janie. “I packed a quick bag with our toiletries and one change of clothes for each of us, without realizing what an ordeal this situation would become.”

Janie and Chase were medevacked by a Mexican Coast Guard cutter, transferred to a water ambulance, and then to another ambulance that took them to a hospital in Cancun. That’s where things took a decisive turn for the worse. The hospital was clean and modern, which initially calmed Janie’s fears for her son. The surgeon who evaluated Chase confirmed that surgery was needed, and that they would begin within the hour. Janie met with a financial clerk who initially said they would need to make a $6,000 deposit, but when surgery was indicated, the cost jumped to $25,000.

“I wasn’t thinking about money at all, just Chase’s life, so of course I was willing to pay whatever it cost. But it was the middle of the night, and I was desperately trying to get in touch with my insurance company while using Google Translate to communicate with hospital staff,” says Janie. “I provided my only credit card for what I thought was a down payment, but they ran the card for the full $25,0000, and the card was declined and shut off by my credit card company. Now we had no way to make the payment.”

Instead of moving forward with surgery, the hospital decided to delay until the next morning to see if Janie could get the money. All the while, Chase was becoming increasingly sick and was in terrible pain. The hospital stopped his IV pain medication and antibiotics and stopped talking to them. Through a series of miscommunications and panicked calls with insurance and credit card companies, Janie was having no luck getting the money they needed.

“Even though they knew I could get the money by noon, they told us they were transferring Chase to the public hospital and that we had to leave. I’d heard horror stories about public hospitals in Mexico, but we didn’t have a choice – they began physically removing us from the hospital,” says Janie. “When we arrived at the next hospital, they set Chase in a wheelchair on the loading dock and left us there. It was so terrifying.”

After an hour of waiting, no one had come to help Chase, and they both feared for his life. There were heavily armed guards patrolling as well as visibly wounded citizens screaming and begging to be let in to the hospital.  It was in this moment that Janie felt like God opened the door and showed her the way with an angel he put in their path. She had asked a paramedic on the dock about how to see the doctor, and he quickly told her that they needed to go to a private hospital. After praying about the decision with Chase, Janie agreed to let this man take them to another hospital in a different area of town.

“We were at a point of desperation and had to trust that this man was sent from God to help us.

When we arrived, we quickly worked through the financial negotiations and coordinated benefits with our insurance carrier,” says Janie. “Chase had his appendix removed with no complications, and we left the hospital in 24 hours. Because he wasn’t cleared to fly for 5 days, we stayed in a hotel across the street while he recovered.”

Today, Chase is back to school studying business marketing and entrepreneurship and runs a small business buying and selling vehicles. He’s fully recovered from his surgery. Through this harrowing near-death experience for her son, Janie was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends, coworkers, physicians and others who were doing all they could to help from miles away. It was also sobering to realize what might have happened to Chase if he didn’t get the surgery in time.

“We are so blessed to live in a country where we can access excellent healthcare whenever we need it, and to have access to the resources to pay for his surgery in a private hospital.  I know that Chase could have easily died at the public hospital, and I don’t take that for granted. He and I both continue to pray for the people we encountered along this journey that don’t have these choices,” says Janie. “And I’ll never forget the man who helped us. We don’t even know his name, but without him, things could have turned out very differently.”