Canadian diagnosed with brain tumour in Thailand will have flight home paid for but condition worsens
TORONTO -- The wife of a Canadian man diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour in Thailand has been told his insurance will now cover the $265,000 air ambulance trip home after initially being rejected because he had the flu a month ago—but there are still fears it's too late.
Kitchener resident Alex Witmer and his wife Jennifer Witmer, who had been living in Moncton, quit their jobs earlier this year and went on a six-week trip to Thailand before planning to relocate to Toronto.
The couple was about a month into their trip when the 30-year-old began suffering from a severe migraine. They went to the hospital in Koh Samui and were expecting to be given pain medication, but after doctors completed scans they were told he had a tumour deep inside his brain that was cancerous.
He was immediately given medication to reduce the pressure inside his brain that was causing the severe headache, but was told he needs to have brain surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as soon as possible.
The couple was then told the medication to reduce the pressure inside Alex’s head will only work for a few days and it would only be safe for him to fly home during that time.
The couple contacted their travel insurance company, opened a claim and was told an air ambulance service would be sent to bring Alex back to Canada.
"A few hours later they called back and said they received his medical records and it showed he checked into an emergency room in Moncton a month ago and had symptoms of the flu," Jennifer told CTV News Toronto.
"He reported a mild headache and because he said that they cancelled our claim based off him having a pre-existing condition."
The couple was told by the insurance company that they could still send an air ambulance but it would cost $265,000, which was not an option.
On Tuesday, Allianz Global Assistance confirmed to CTV News Toronto they will now cover the travel costs for Alex to get home.
"We are working with Mr. Witmer’s treating physicians in Thailand to bring him and his wife home to Canada as quickly and safely as possible," Vice President of Market Management at Allianz Global Assistance told CTV News Toronto.
"His medical treatment and expenses abroad and transport home will be fully covered."
Alex's condition is deteriorating
Speaking through tears after learning the news, Jennifer said she’s relieved and is hoping it isn't too late.
"It's very frustrating and upsetting because we could have been out of here so much sooner and it would have been such a lower risk."
"My sister contacted the air ambulance company directly and the president of the company actually reached out to Allianz and grounded the air ambulance in India to prepare them to come to Thailand."
Jennifer said her husband's condition is rapidly deteriorating and he is no longer part of the decision making process.
Doctors will now put a drainage tube in Alex's brain and try and reduce the pressure. He needs to spend at least 24 hours with the tube in before he can fly.
The air ambulance will arrive in Thailand early Wednesday morning (local time) and will wait until the couple is ready to leave.
Insurance company first only approved a commercial flight
Late Monday night, Jennifer said her insurance company offered to pay for Alex to fly home on a commercial flight with a registered nurse.
They warned the couple that even though they would pay upfront, they could still be on the hook for the costs when they get home.
"They booked him a commercial flight with a registered nurse. It was booked for Thursday morning," Jennifer said.
"But we met with his surgeon here and he said he couldn’t sign off because his recommendation was that he needed to fly with a physician and nurse."
"They decided to do another CT scan to see how he is doing and prepare for the flight."
"The scan showed he got worse. Unfortunately, the pressure got worse so the only way we can fly now is with a drain, and the only way to fly with a drain is an air ambulance."
On their website, Allianz Global Assistance defines a pre-existing condition as "an injury, illness or medical condition that caused someone to seek treatment, presented symptoms, or required medication."
"This may have taken place anytime within 120 days prior to and including the plan’s purchase date."
Couple overwhelmed by support
A GoFundMe page has been organized to help raise funds for Alex's care and has received nearly $60,000 in one day.
"We're overwhelmed and emotional," Jennifer said. "How do you put this into words to see so many strangers giving up so much to save his life is the most amazing thing ever."
"I feel really guilty that everyone feels so helpless and that they can’t be here."
Parents concerned over travel back home
While word of Alex's trip home is welcomed news, his parents admit they are distressed by the situation.
"Before he gets flown home, he might not even make it," Alex's mother Amanda said. "We don't know what's going to happen. We hope not."
"I'm very happy he's coming home," Alex's father Phil said. "It doesn't take away the fear though."