Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

December 21, 2013

Hidden birth defect lands laborer in emergency room



GRAWN — In late November, Josh Drake met with his bosses over a breakfast of hash browns and sausage. It was then he learned he was getting laid off for the winter.

He expected the news. He’d worked at the same Suttons Bay cherry orchard for years and the layoff was as regular as the deep winter snow.

The real shock came a few hours later when he landed in Munson Medical Center’s emergency room.

“It kind of felt like I was drowning. Every breath was a struggle,” he said.

Doctors withdrew 50 gallons of fluid, and, over the next 10 days, discovered a cascade of health problems, including a viral infection, hypertension, and a rare and very serious heart condition that had lurked in his body since birth.

“I came as close to having a heart attack as you can without having one,” he said.

Drake, 32, has since left the hospital and is feeling better. But now he faces serious financial hurdles. He was ordered to refrain from working for at least six months, and he has no insurance to pay for his medical expenses.

“It’s partially my fault for not having insurance. I should have,” he said. “But it was one of those things. I thought I could go without it because I was healthy, and I didn’t have the money to spend on it. Did I want health insurance or a place to live and food to eat?”

Drake was interviewed in his small apartment that’s tacked onto the back of a Blair Township garage, where he lives with his girlfriend, Maggie Scholtus, who holds a part-time, retail job.

Josh hadn’t seen a doctor in years because he never fell ill and didn’t have insurance. Now he’ll have to drain his $10,000 retirement account in order to apply for Medicaid and disability. If he does qualify, he won’t receive his first disability payment until six months after he’s approved. He can’t collect unemployment benefits because he’s not ready or able to work.

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