My older cousin Makayla Langer was born on December 5th, 1995 in a small hospital in western Wisconsin. Makayla was born with a chromosomal defect. This genetic mutation led to Makayla being diagnosed with dwarfism before she was born. Currently, at close to twenty-one years of age, Makayla stands at a little over three feet tall.
Although many people think that the only thing dwarfism does is make a person short, there are many other physical ailments that are associated with the disorder. Because of these disabilities, Makayla spent the first four weeks of her life living in the hospital. Makayla’s internal organs weren’t formed properly before she was born, so they weren’t able to perform their tasks to the fullest extent. Almost every basic function necessary for survival (pumping blood, breathing, etc.) was close to impossible for her body to perform on its own. She needed to be under the constant supervision of medical professionals in order to survive through the first crucial weeks. Finally, she was released and sent home. Even though she technically didn’t reside in the hospital, she still spent most of her time there for the next four years.
There are many side effects of dwarfism that had to be dealt with in the first few years of Makayla’s childhood in order to allow her to live a mostly ‘normal’ life. Makayla had a very hard time breathing, so she underwent an operation called a tracheotomy. This involves a doctor making an incision in the neck and inserting a tube which serves as a second airway, limiting or erasing the amount of oxygen that is needed to be inhaled through the nose and mouth. Makayla doesn’t have the trachea tube anymore, but I do remember when it was still necessary for her to use. Dwarfism also increases a person’s susceptibility to ear infections which, after a number of reoccurrences, can render a person deaf. This happened to Makayla. Thankfully, she isn’t fully deaf, but she does require hearing aids in order to comfortably hold a conversation. Makayla also has a hard time walking from place to place; not only is it hard for her to move because of her shorter legs, but her muscles never strengthened fully, so she gets easily tired during any type of activity. Because of this, her parents had to get her an electric scooter that she could ride around on to get from place to place.
A tracheotomy can cost as much as $150,000, hearing aids cost up to $6,000, and the scooters typically cost around $1,000. This price doesn’t take into account the cost of the many hospitals stays or the private doctor visits, of which there were many. The Langer family was looking at paying more than $156,000 to ensure their oldest daughter more than four years of life. Add in the fact that my aunt and uncle had two more kids with another on the way, and they were looking at a very difficult financial situation.
Thankfully, my aunt and uncle had substantial health insurance. When someone close to you is very sick, the last thing you want to do is worry about how much the resources they need are going to cost. You just want to make sure that they are getting healthy as quickly as possible. Because Uncle Joel and Aunt Gail had insurance, they were able to do just that. Instead of trying to find the money to pay for the basic necessities, they were able to get their daughter whatever she needed. Having a good health insurance plan allowed them to focus on their daughters emotional and physical well-being without worrying about exorbitant medical bills.
Without medical insurance, I truly believe that my cousin would not be who she is today. If they had to pay out of pocket, my aunt and uncle would have had to pick and choose which procedures and resources they would’ve gotten for Makayla. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to hear us, or maybe when all of us cousins go on walks she would be forced to stay with the adults. All I know for sure is that she wouldn’t have had as great of a life as she has. Because of the care she was given when she was little, and the care she still receives today, Makayla’s disorder doesn’t define her whole life. Sure, Makayla will never be able to run around and play sports with me and all of my cousins, but when we decide to take a walk in the woods at our annual camping trip, she can come with us on her scooter. And when we sit around the table at our grandma and grandpa’s house during holidays, she can join in our conversations from across the table. And, most importantly, because of the medical care she received that was paid for by her insurance company, Makayla is happy and healthy and able to live a full life.
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