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Colorado community rallies behind family facing financial devastation from medical bills

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Barger family: Paul, Jake and Annie
Barger family: Paul, Jake and Annie

The news was devastating. Seven months into her pregnancy, Annie and Paul Barger of Eaton, Colo. learned of the numerous surgeries and lifelong challenges their unborn son would face, due to congenital hydrocephalus. Shortly before learning about their son’s condition, Paul suffered a heart attack and two heart stents were surgically placed.

Jake was born in December 2006, with congenital hydrocephalus, a condition in which the cerebral spinal fluid builds up in the brain potentially causing brain damage and even death if not treated. “Jake was born with the space for this fluid to drain but it was not big enough to function normally,” Annie explains. He underwent his first surgery to correct his condition at 21 days old, in January 2007. A shunt, a tube that runs from Jake’s ventricles to his stomach cavity, now serves as a drain for the cerebral spinal fluid building up in his brain.

The day after Jake’s surgery, Paul was laid off from his job, and the Bargers lost health insurance benefits a month later. The medical bills were piling up. While the family received limited benefits from the state, their prior income precluded them from receiving what their current bills demanded.

Five months later and with a new certification, Paul found a job, but it offered no health benefits. Little Jake underwent three additional surgeries, which were not covered by insurance but were required for his survival. Additionally, Paul’s heart condition required medication, one with a hefty $200 per month price tag. Annie’s father moved into the family home, due to another set of health problems. Annie, who was working throughout these struggles, quit her job to care for Jake, but continued her graduate studies. She now works as a substitute teacher, which offers the flexibility needed to care for her family.

Paul obtained new employment that provides health insurance, but his salary was reduced by $25,000 annually. The family struggles to make ends meet. The medical bills are astronomical, and creditors range from being sympathetic to their predicament to overtly litigious, threatening to assume 60 percent of the family’s income. Annie, meanwhile, is still struggling to complete her Master’s degree, with only nine months remaining in course study.

Fortunately, Jake has no developmental delays and was not born handicapped. Four brain surgeries, including shunt placement and revisions have saved his life and created an environment for his brain to function normally. Jake’s condition will require lifelong medical monitoring, surgeries and care. The Barger’s attempts to improve their collective finances are preparation for this reality.

“We provide Jake with a healthy diet and foster an environment for him to learn and enjoy his childhood, and he is a happy, healthy and loving beautiful boy. He is able to win the hearts of nearly everyone he meets and knows no stranger... so to speak,” Annie says.

The reality looms: the family accumulated over $100,000 in medical bills, some of which has been paid off, but the remaining $25,000 remains a point of contention for persistent collection agencies who further threaten their livelihood. In addition, Jake suffered two febrile seizures this past weekend. Consequently, two ambulance rides, which insurance does not cover, and a hospital bill add to the family’s debt overload.

Concerned friends, family and community businesses have set up the Barger Family Benefit Fund at New West Bank and are seeking donations to help the family recover from their debt stress.

Checks can be made to:

Barger Family Benefit Fund 
and sent to: New West Bank
55 South Elm Avenue
Eaton, CO 80615

About Congenital Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus is simply described as water on the brain. The cause of this type of hydrocephalus is unknown and is considered a birth defect. Hydrocephalus is the buildup of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Normally, this fluid cushions the brain. When there is too much, though, it puts harmful pressure on the brain. Many children who are born with spinabifida also have hydrocephalus – premature birth can cause hydrocephalus (where the ventricles are not fully developed and fill with blood). Hydrocephalus is one of the least researched defects and the shunt has proved to be the best and, in most cases, the only solution, and has been used for over 30 years, successfully.

Two kinds of hydrocephalus are known. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth, and causes include genetic defects and problems with fetal development. An unusually large head is the main sign of congenital hydrocephalus. Acquired hydrocephalus can occur at any age. Causes can include head injuries, strokes, infections, tumors and bleeding in the brain. Hydrocephalus can permanently damage the brain, causing problems with physical and mental development. If untreated, it is usually fatal. With treatment, many people lead normal lives with few limitations. Treatment usually involves surgical insertion of a shunt. Medicine and rehabilitation therapy can also help.

Symptoms of acquired hydrocephalus can include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Balance problems
  • Thinking and memory problems

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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