An important lesson for travelers

Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 13, 2016

James Pauley Jr. will be able to come home, soon. That's according to his "Go Fund Me" page. Sarah Atkinson said her 75 year old grandfather suffered a heart attack while on a cruise along the Panama Canal. He was sent to Colombia for medical treatment but didn't purchase traveler's insurance. So, his medical bills aren't covered. 

The post reads: "Update: it is with great pleasure I announce the hospital accepted a good faith payment. (Originally we were told we need all the money up front before they would even give him the pacemaker) they're still negotiating a final price for the hospital and the flight home,however that price won't include the flight home if they need hospital staff on the plane. He should be having surgery Thursday. Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts for the prayers,donations and shares. We can't thank you all enough. #prayersforpauleys"

“We just want him home," Atkinson told 7 Eyewitness News on Wednesday. "He's one of the most important people in our family. They had to fly him to a medical health service clinic. When he arrived, he had 20 heartbeats a minute.”

He was also experiencing kidney failure. So he was put on dialysis. Atkinson said he's covered under Medicare. But, the problem is that Colombia doesn't accept it, and her grandfather didn't purchase travelers insurance.  Days later, she said the clinic where he's being treated is demanding a deposit before they let him leave. “They want all this money upfront that none of my family happens to have. They keep changing the prices so we don't have an exact number."

U.S. Embassy officials in Colombia couldn't confirm how much Colombia is asking for. But, they said he's receiving the best care possible and isn't being held against his will. “By no means is this a hostage take. This would be a similar situation in the United States,” said Robin Busse, who is the American Citizen Services Chief for the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. In other words, if a tourist enters the U.S. and needs medical care, most hospitals here would require some sort of a deposit. 

Travel experts say this is why travel insurance is so important. Some plans cover up to $50k in medical expenses. “You want to make sure that you have precautions just in case you do get sick. No one plans on getting sick or having an accident on vacation but unfortunately sometimes that does happen and the traveler's insurance is there to make sure you're covered just in case,” said Elizabeth Carey with AAA of Western and Central NY.

“My grandparents have gone on many cruises before and nothing like this has ever happened. So, they didn't think they would need it,” Atkinson said.

Now they know better.

But, that's the least of Atkinson’s concerns. She just wants her grandfather home. “My grandfather means a lot to all of us. Nothing would be the same without him.”

To donate to the family, click here.