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Jenny’s Story



We live in a country that is in crisis right now and we all find ourselves searching for answers. Who’s wrong, who’s right but never getting to common ground and a meeting of the hearts if not the minds. My ultimate goal is to unite, certainly there is already enough division. If we can agree that we are seeking change in this country and that we can play an important part in making change happen, than there is nothing that can stop us as a force if we join together.

For those who may wonder what led me to the creation of this site and where my passion for this cause comes from let me share Jenny’s story….

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One Family’s Insurance Nightmare

Our flawed health care system fails a mother and her unborn child
by Midge Hough

Dan and Midge Hough attending a public option health care vigil in Grant Park

Just one week after Jen’s death in our deepest grief we went to a public option health care vigil in Grant Park. I carried a huge poster with Jen’s picture on it entitled “She Could Not Wait”. My husband Dan was a speaker and bravely stood up on the hill to tell Jen’s story. He almost made it through without breaking down but telling the story to the large group who listened attentively forced us to relive it all over again. It was painful to do but something we felt driven to do for Jen who is now silenced. We will carry her story to anyone who will listen to us so that other families do not have to suffer the loss that we have.

On August 26th at 2:30 pm we said goodbye to our beautiful 24 year-old daughter in-law, Jennifer. Sean, our son, was lying along side of her holding her in the hospital bed as he had many nights before. We stood at her side holding her hand and stroking her head whispering words that we hoped would sooth her. We watched the torturous action of the ventilator being turned off knowing it was final now and life was over for this young woman. She would never get to live her life, watch her daughter grow up or be with her husband again. The pain did not end there because now we must watch our son struggle, not able to accept this outcome. We are all struggling.

We would like to share Jen’s story with you and recount how she was tragically failed by our flawed healthcare system. Jen did not have health care insurance and she was denied insurance when we tried to buy it for her because pregnancy is considered a preexisting conndition. Like millions of others, Jenny was faceless and voiceless in the richest county in the world. Jen became ill and what follows is her tragic demise. She was seven months pregnant, had a two year old daughter and a husband who was struggling to make a better life for all of them. Jen got sick and was finally admitted to the hospital on July 5th. We all stood vigil in the Intensive Care Unit for 55 days, 24/7 and even today it seems surreal that this could have happened. It didn’t have to happen, it should not have happened, and yet here we are grieving having watched a nightmare unfold before our eyes. The short answer to a long story is that it was all about profit and not about people, it could have been prevented. The horrific suffering that we witnessed this young woman go through must never happen to anyone else.

Sean Fritts and daughter Kylee

Jen and Sean moved to Indiana seeking to build a better life for their family in difficult times. They were there a very short time when Jen became ill. She was 7 months pregnant so when she complained of being tired and sleepy it seemed natural. It became clear on July 4th that it was something more than an expecting mother’s fatigue. She was listless and had a cough and a fever. Jen did not have proper pre-natal care and was always struggling with clinics to see a doctor in an over-crowded system without health insurance. As a last resort, they went to the ER at a for-profit hospital. They were asked the standard questions and waited to be seen. After 4 hours, the doctor examined Jen, sent her for an x-ray and proclaimed that she had a cold, perhaps some bronchitis and sent her away with a prescription for an antibiotic and an inhaler. They did not consider that she was pregnant and a high risk.

The following morning at breakfast, Sean watched Jen as she seemed to be falling asleep sitting up and made a quick decision to once again go to an emergency room in a second hospital, this time a not-for-profit. Sean was nervous about being turned away, so he lied and said they had insurance but had forgotten the medical card. They examined Jen, did another x-ray and blood tests and this time the findings were far different from those less than 24 hours earlier. Jen had severe double pneumonia, sepsis and respiratory failure. She was admitted, and by that night she was in ICU on a ventilator with septic shock. Medical staff members spoke off the record saying there was no way Jen could have gotten this sick in 24 hours.

We were told there was little chance that she would ever wake up. Her lungs were badly damaged and they had induced a coma like state to help her reserve energy. Doctors and administrators talked about Jen at that point as if she were an incubator for the baby she was carrying. They had written her off as being too ill to ever recover. We begged to have her flown to a university hospital many times but were always told she would not survive the transport. We heard numbers like 20% and 5% chance for her survival and these numbers seemed to change with each new doctor we spoke to. She never had a CT to clearly define what was going on inside her body because the hospital did not have a portable ventilator to transport her for tests and she coded anytime she was moved without a ventilator. Most of her diagnosis was an “educated guess” to use the doctor’s words.

Jen went from one crisis to another the entire time we were there. She had a heart attack from blood clots and was being rushed to OR for a heart catherization. There was a team standing nearby to save the baby if Jen did not survive but the baby died on the way to the procedure. Jen survived the procedure but she was in very bad shape. The baby was left in uteri rather than being delivered because they felt she would not make it through a delivery. That changed over the next few days as the medical staff felt the sepsis infection was growing and they needed to induce labor. The baby was delivered quickly, a beautiful perfect little baby girl but stillborn. There was little time to mourn this loss because within hours Jen had a stroke from the stress on her body and was left paralyzed on her left side. She than had a brain bleed from the blood clots and once again we were told she would never wake up.

That began a discussion about removing her from the ventilator. There was pressure from the doctors and even talk about the enormous expense of keeping someone alive under these circumstances, but Sean begged for a few more days. He had not left her side and had become so protective of her that we worried about how he would be able to let go if it came to that. Minutes after that conversation that seemed to be the end, we walked into her hospital room to find Jen with her huge blue eyes wide open and looking around. Doctors were amazed and we felt as if we had witnessed a miracle and against all odds we had renewed hope.

We all rode the roller coaster from one day to the next, witnessing crisis after crisis. On good days Jen would put her lips up to be kissed, nod her head, roll her eyes when she thought something was funny, blink and mouth words. We clung to these moments and it was even more difficult because we knew she was in there and thinking. If she had not had brain activity maybe it would have been easier. Each time Jen came back from the brink the doctors would tell us it was her young age that allowed her to fight so hard but that her lungs were destroyed and would not get better.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. During this time we requested second opinions and struggled with staff to make sure Jen got her medications, was comfortable and was attended to. Since she did not have private insurance we were always battling for what we thought she needed. She had no voice and relied on the people who loved her to make sure she would be taken care of. We had great nurses, and nurses who acted like it was a burden to do the things needed to sustain her. We had doctors that were engaged and doctors who were arrogant and cold and we were all exhausted from nights of lying on a cot or sitting in a chair getting a few hours sleep. We ate hospital food and relied on vending machines but stood ever ready to take charge of the next battle whatever it was.

In Jen’s last weeks, she developed severe pain in her abdomen that they were unable to explain to us since she had never had a CT. Sean had fought hard for them to get a portable ventilator over the weeks, something other hospitals had to transport seriously ill patients for tests. They got one the last week of her life but by then they would not move her without us signing papers to release them from liability. It was too late for our Jen, had they had it the first month it may have made a difference and now we will never know.

She had two collapsed lungs and two chest tubes inserted during the first month and now there were new perforations in her lungs which could not be repaired. The pain was so horrific for her and we cried at times watching her legs shaking and her eyes begging when nurses did not get to her quickly enough with medication. Yes, she was still aware, waking up and trying to talk to us…something we will never forget seeing.

The day came when Sean had to make a decision to remove her from the ventilator and we all agonized over this with him. It didn’t have to be like this, it should not have been like this!

Jennifer and daughter Kylee

In the richest county in the world our daughter in-law died, she died at the age of 24. We will never see her bright eyes again, her infectious smile, hear about her love for the color green, or watch her grow in her life. She didn’t have insurance, is that a crime in America??? Have we lost compassion for those who are less fortunate, and do we now condemn them to die if they can not buy private insurance? We hear about the enormous amounts of money it will cost for a public option but each day Jen was in ICU the cost was over $22,000. You do the math. She may have been alive today had we had a system that looks at everyone equally. If the first hospital had diagnosed her with double pneumonia instead of working within the limitations of cost restraints for the non-insured, a life may have been saved. Our family has always had private insurance but we have been very aware of those less fortunate and fought for their rights. Today we find ourselves sitting here having experienced first hand what is a reality to millions of Americans everyday.

Please don’t let there be another Jen! Please hold health care insurance companies accountable; please provide those who can not afford insurance with a way to be cared for other than emergency rooms. That is not the answer. It’s been forty years of fighting for change and the insurance industry still has a strangle hold on all of us and it’s stronger than ever. As a family who has suffered a great loss we are asking you to remember Jen before making the decision that things are good enough the way they are and that health care can once again wait…

“Big Insurance: Sick of It” Rally from Justin Jach on Vimeo.

I learned early on that you had to fight for anything in this world that was worth having. Dan and I raised five boys on the east coast before moving to Chicago where we currently live with our two dogs. Our boys are grown now and life was going well until July 3rd 2009. Our son, his wife and our two year old granddaughter had moved here just months earlier to be closer to us and to better their lives. Jenny was 24 years old and was seven and a half months pregnant and Sean had lost his job along with their health care insurance. We attempted to buy health care insurance for her but were told no, she had a preexisting condition, “Pregnancy.” That’s when they decided to move to a neighboring state so that Sean could take training to increase his skills and find a job quickly and it was there that Jenny got sick.

Jenny went to an ER on July 3rd complaining of not feeling well, having trouble breathing etc. It was a for-profit ER and they quickly examined her, told her she had a cold and sent her away. The next day she was worse, much worse and my son took her to another ER and lied about having insurance, he was feeling desperate. They examined her and found that she had double pneumonia, septic shock from the pneumonia, and repertory failure. She was admitted and by that night was on life support where she remained for the next 55 days. During this time Jenny had a heart attack, a brain bleed and a stroke. The baby died during the heart attack and at 7.5 months it was viable to live but it happened to quickly. They said she would never wake up and we had lost most hope until she opened her blue eyes and looked at us with tears in her eyes…we all wept with her. The weeks passed and almost every day there was a crisis. I stayed at the hospital with my son so he would not be alone if something were to go wrong. We slept in chairs, sometimes on a cot but we never left her side. Early on there were good days when she would smile, nod her head, put her lips up to be kissed and would communicate by blinking. As time passed we were told that her lungs could not repair themselves and braced for the worst case. She did not have a mother or a father in her life so my husband and I were her surrogate parents and watching her tortured for almost two months brought us to our knees. The time came when a decision had to be made to remove her from life support because her pain was unbearable and they could not give her enough medication to give her comfort. All during this nightmare the doctors and nurses all said (off the record) if she had been diagnosed at the first ER she likely would have been OK and that they had missed her diagnosis. The day we removed life support still runs in my mind like a bad movie. Sean had to be medicated and he laid in the bed with Jenny, his arms wrapped around her. My husband and I stood next to her and I stroked her forehead and whispered words that I hoped would bring her some kind of comfort, my husband held her hand and we stood there an cried. Had Jenny been brain dead it may have been easier but this young 24 year old was aware and had battled back from the brink many times and now we had to make the decision. Jenny lost her battle to live on August 26th at 3:20 pm.

The thing is Jenny did not have to die. Through a few missteps she found herself without access to the care she deserved. People talk about free clinics, ER’s as being a solution but I can tell you through personal experience that the free clinics are under funded and understaffed with long waiting lists and you just read what happens if you depend on a hospital ER for your health care. That was the day the day that changed me forever. We went to our first health care gathering, a candle light vigil in Grant Park, and I carried a poster sized sign of Jenny with the words “She could not wait.” I ran night and day where ever I was needed to help people understand that things happen in life that you have no control over and because we have a broken health care system there are people dying and suffering everyday. I met many on my journey who had insurance but were denied or dropped when they needed it most. My goal is to be a voice for those that have been silenced, carry their message and help those that are still alive and can not help themselves.

That journey continues as I watch my son grieving and looking at a two year old who will never know her mother and still we are fighting and nothing has been accomplished on health care reform as I write this. Certainly we can agree on this issue right? Jenny’s 55 day stay in ICU totaled 1.5 million dollars. For those of you who are concerned about our huge deficient and I’m sure that is all of us, just think about that. Those kind of numbers are being passed off to you and I everyday in taxes in rate hikes etc. How much would have been saved if there had been an option for Jenny?

The videos on this site are of what happened along the way. The vigils/rallies, attending a town hall and being attacked by the “teapartypatriots,” the media coming to interview me, appearing on their shows, radio and TV and interviews by newspapers and the list goes on. Did it accomplish anything? I believe it did. No longer can a pregnant women be denied health care insurance under the new bill that we passed. Thank you President Obama for having the vision that many of us have.

If we can all agree that there is a better way but that we might not agree on every detail, than we can make our voices heard. We laughed at the teaparty but they show up in record numbers and they will not be ignored. What if that was us…Progressives, and Independents coming together in mass. Imagine the impact we could have, the difference we could make not just on this issue but on all other issues that affect our lives every day!

Please join me and lets bring civility and democracy back into our discussions and our politics….

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2010 1:51 pm


    We shall have realistic affordable quality universal healthcare in America. Thank you for helping to faciliate the process so that it happens sooner than later.

    Dr R

    • February 7, 2010 2:26 pm

      Dr R. The time has come to put our heads together and figure out a way to stand up to the divisive people in this country. We don’t have to be the ugly hate filled teaparty but we do have to make some noise. Never in my lifetime have I seen this kind of politics that so openly defies doing what’s best for this country. It has left us paralyzed and that’s why they are growing stronger everyday. We need to be out there at every event possible, speaking out and organizing our own grassroots group. There is power in numbers…the teaparty has proved that.

  2. February 7, 2010 4:00 pm

    “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one”– Former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn

    We will need passionate carpenters since it will take Americans who truly understand our broken down healthcare “system” that serves the special interests at the expense of the public interest of millions of hard working citizens.

    Our healthcare “system” is way too costly. It should cover all Americans at an affordable price. But, it doesn’t… and this is the compelling moral reason why we must mobilize a multitude of informed and life loving carpenters to fix the “system” before more lives are lost.

    I thank God for keeping my loved ones healthy and safe. I thank God for helping me to be here…a 7 year survivor of cancer. I pray to God that we can reform our “system” and save lives! Carpenters who care about your fellow Americans need to come forth and get to work!

    • February 7, 2010 4:20 pm

      Beautifully said Doc. Lets mobilize this army of carpenters and get started! The work has just begun…

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