As the talks ratchet up about repealing The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially referred to as Obamacare, I can’t help but think of Dave Feibelman, who was born and raised in Fort Pierce, worked in the car business for decades and nearly died two years ago when his heart, which was fragile from the time he was born 64 years ago, was about to give out.
When he was born, doctors told Feibelman’s parents that he would likely die within 30 days because of heart defects. But his mother, Violet, a registered nurse, was adamant that her only son would survive. With her care and vigilance, Dave not only survived, but led a mostly normal life, attending local schools, graduating from Dan McCarty High in 1970, attending Troy University in Alabama, and then following his dad, Herb, into the car business.
Dave was working at Sunrise Ford in 2014 when I noticed his color was off, he was unsteady on his feet, and had trouble concentrating on a car deal. He was also worried about Herb who had been suffering from dementia for quite a while. Dave was his sole caregiver and knew he had to work to help pay the bills and be home at night to keep an eye on him. But I was insistent he got medical attention right away. I knew he had open heart surgery in 2001 to try to mend the defects and was worried his heart could once again be the problem.
Dave was hospitalized locally for several weeks before his cardiologist decided that he needed to be transported to Shands Teaching Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville. There, the same cardiologist who performed the open heart surgery in 2001, decided Dave would need a new heart to keep him alive.
Dave remained on Sunrise Ford’s insurance plan during those first hospitalizations and we were relieved that his doctor had a game plan. But we were soon disappointed to hear there was a snag that would delay the transplant operation. While at Shands, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which needed to be addressed before doctors could proceed with the heart transplant.
It would take another six months of cancer treatments before doctors would consider going ahead with the transplant. Dave had already realized that he could not be on Sunrise Ford’s payroll or insurance plan indefinitely, so he signed up for Obamacare. His medical care was covered under a Florida Blue policy that was part of the Obamacare plan.
Dave underwent radiation for the cancer and was given the green light for the transplant six months later. He remained at Shands for another four months waiting for a matching heart. On September 2, 2015 he got the word the heart was available and he underwent surgery. “I was lucky,” he said recently. “They told me I would probably have to wait six months to a year.”
He remained in the hospital two weeks and stayed in Gainesville for follow-up care to complete his physical therapy and for his follow-up tests. Dave said his care was wonderful and the insurance covered most of his expenses.
He returned to Fort Pierce and says he feels like a new man. The ordeal did have financial consequences. The comfortable home he shared with his dad was sold and he now lives in a modest apartment. Herb is in an assisted living facility. Dave ended up getting disability and is now on Medicare. He returns to Gainesville every two or three months for tests to make sure his body is not rejecting the new heart. But he said he is so very thankful for the friends who helped him through those tough times. He’s back playing golf a few times a week, takes his dad out to dinner regularly, and is looking for a part-time job. “A lot of angels,” he says of the people that oversaw his care.
Dave is not particularly political but realizes Obamacare also helped save his life. He’s grateful that Florida Blue could not deny him coverage for his pre-existing heart condition. Dave has always been a hard-working, responsible American who deserved the government’s safety net when he needed it.
Dave was one of the 20 million Americans who depended on Obamacare. And for all of its faults—increases in insurance premiums, problems getting the doctor you wanted, and sometimes dealing with bureaucratic red tape—it has been a lifesaver.
President-elect Donald Trump vows to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that will “get healthcare taken care of in this country.” So far, no details of what that replacement will be have been released. In the meantime, insurance companies, hospitals, health care professionals, and the 20 million covered by Obamacare have no idea of what is next.
As for our friend, Dave Feibelman, I am just so glad Obamacare was there when he needed it.