Patient Assistance Fund helps families stay together during treatment

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Dakota Case was born with a rare heart defect. By the age of 25, he had lived through three open heart surgeries and had been listed for a heart transplant.

But the summer of 2015 would prove to be one of the most trying periods of his life. His heart was pumping at an extremely low output – too low to provide enough blood to sufficiently supply his organs.

Dakota spent that summer in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Nebraska Medicine, and 40 days of it was on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO) machine to allow his lungs to grow stronger. ECMO takes over the work of a person’s own lungs and/or heart by delivering oxygen to the blood. As Dakota’s lungs grew healthier, he was able to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), moving him closer to a heart transplant.

“It was touch and go for a whole month,” says his mother, Jennifer Case. Jennifer and husband, Chuck, who live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had to leave their home and business that summer so they could be with Dakota during that tenuous time.

The following spring, Dakota’s condition deteriorated again. This time he would be hospitalized until he received a heart transplant. Again, Jennifer had to leave her home and family business so she could stay with Dakota during that three-month period before and after the heart transplant.

None of this would have been possible without the help of Nebraska Medicine’s Patient Assistance Fund, says Jennifer. The Patient Assistance Fund provides assistance to hundreds of patients and their families each year by helping them with everyday needs such as lodging, meals, gas cards and transportation.

The fund provided Jennifer and Chuck with a place to stay and food cards during those long, difficult months in 2015 and 2016 when Dakota’s condition was the most fragile.  “The first summer we had nothing coming in,” says Jennifer. “I don’t know how we would have done it without the extra help. But being there for Dakota was so critical for his recovery. The first week in the ICU he was literally dying. If we had not been there, he would have lost hope.”

“Having their presence, comfort and that familiarity not only gave me hope, but optimism, strength and determination to keep fighting,” says Dakota.

“This fund can make or break it for some patients,” says Jasmine Silva, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker. “They literally wouldn’t be able to receive the care they need here if we weren’t able to use these funds to help them with some of the everyday needs of living. The Patient Assistance Fund is also another means that allows us to provide a whole person approach to care. It helps relieves the emotional stress that financial strains can have on a patient and family so they can focus on getting well.”

It’s exactly what the Case family needed. “To me this fund is just as important as the facilities here,” says Jennifer. “Because without it, many people wouldn’t be able to get the extraordinary care they need from the amazing doctors and nurses at Nebraska Medicine.”

Dakota has since gotten married and works at a hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a cardiopulmonary patient care technician. “I like being a source of strength and comfort for others who are having similar health problems.”

This story was provided to the foundation curtesy of Nebraska Medicine.

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