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Harry: A Simple Boat Ride Gone Wrong

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Air Methods’ Kindness Keeps Boating Accident from Sinking Family with Debt

The steamy morning of July 4, 2019 began with the anticipation of sandwiches, cold beverages and a leisurely, refreshing cruise down South Carolina’s Sampit River later that day followed by fireworks in the evening. To be sure everything was perfect when his wife Calli and a few other people joined them, 42 year old Harry Pope told his neighbor he’d help him take the neighbor’s boat out for a test run on the water since it hadn’t been used for a while.

Harry and Calli were especially looking forward to a day of mindless relaxation since chronic medical issues had meant Harry was only able to work sporadically at his job as a plumber since February, creating money worries. This would be a chance to leave their troubles on the shore and just enjoy time with friends.

Everything went well with the test cruise – until it didn’t. As Harry and the neighbor were heading back home, a steering cable broke and the boat careened out of control until it ran aground in some trees on a nearby riverbank.

The boat’s owner, who had been driving it at the time, was fine. He had a couple of fractures along with cuts and bruises but was otherwise intact. Harry, however, hadn’t been as lucky.

He had been sitting on the front center console, and when the boat went up the embankment at roughly 20 knots he was exposed to the tree branches waiting there. Fortunately, he was able to duck under the first one, which would have immediately decapitated him. But a lower branch caught him in the chest, pinning him between the mature tree and the boat.

Harry knew something was wrong immediately. He was in a great deal of pain and couldn’t move. He managed to fish his mobile phone out of his pocket and, despite the pain, he called Calli to let her know what had happened.

“It was very scary,” she says. “I knew he was hurt badly and I wanted to go right to him to help, but I couldn’t get to him right away because he had taken the truck. I called the ambulance and walked to the nearby landing. Luckily some Good Samaritan was able to tow the boat to the landing, where I was waiting along with the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) from the ambulance.”

When the EMTs carefully removed Harry from the boat, they recognized immediately that the situation was dire. They accurately suspected his back was broken from the front side, which meant it wouldn’t be safe to transport him across the rough terrain via land. So they called Air Methods for an air transport to the Medical University of Charleston. That’s when the next complication hit.

“By this time the weather to the south of us had started to turn bad,” Calli says. “The wind picked up, storm clouds began rolling in and lightning started flashing. It got so bad that lightning struck seven people in the water shortly after Harry’s incident, and one of them even died. What the storm meant for us was the helicopter couldn’t take Harry to Charleston.”

Instead, Air Methods transported Harry to a church parking lot in Myrtle Beach, where it met another ambulance that took him the rest of the way to the trauma center at Grand Strand Medical Center. The staff there delivered tremendous care according to Calli, but once the emergency had passed and Harry was stabilized the hospital was required to discharge him because he didn’t have health insurance.

Harry and Calli were already worried about the cost of the emergency department treatment and hospital inpatient stay. The first bills totaled $7,000, money they didn’t have, with more expected to come.

A week after the accident, Harry and Calli received a packet from Air Methods, requesting that the Popes provide information about insurance or an attorney, neither of which they had. The letter also provided contact information for the company’s Patient Advocacy department. Air Methods then sent the invoice with billed charges the following month.

“We received the bill for the emergency air transport. It was $53,000,” Calli says. “When I saw it, I just started to cry. I thought I was going to throw up. It was all just too much.”

Desperate and at the end of her rope, Calli decided to call Air Methods’ Patient Advocacy team to ask if there was anything they could do to reduce the bill.

“When I called, the Air Methods Patient Advocate told me she had just gotten off the phone with my husband,” Calli says. “I was surprised that he had called since he’s a husband and you know how they are with these things. The Air Methods Patient Advocate said she understood the situation and asked if we could pay a reduced amount. I told her we honestly couldn’t. She then asked if we could pay a certain amount per month. Again, I told her my husband hadn’t worked regularly in a while and wasn’t going to be able to go back for a long time. Then she said something that changed our entire situation for the better.

“She asked if we could pay $50,” Calli continues. “I asked, ‘a month?’ and she said no, just a one-time payment of $50. I said, ‘Are you (kidding) me?’ and she said no, that is for real. I began sobbing again, but this time it was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and relief. I couldn’t thank her enough, because it took a huge amount of stress out of one of the worst times of our lives.”

Calli and Harry are both effusive in their praise of Air Methods. Harry couldn’t stop talking about how great the pilot, nurse and EMT on the helicopter crew were, making him comfortable and assuring him everything would be alright. But it was the care after the medical care that really hit home.

“Air Methods is just an incredible company with incredible people and an incredibly big heart,” Calli says. “They didn’t have to do what they did, but they know how to take care of the little people like us. They’re not just in it for the money. They really care about people. We had a lot of bad things happen to us in 2019, so this was a wonderful difference. We’re hoping the kindness Air Methods showed us is the kickoff to better days ahead.”