Michael Troy Wieser photos

Thursday, February 26, 2009

WKBT Video story, February 26, 2009

Uninsured and Out of Time - WKBT La Crosse, Wisconsin, Feb. 26, 2009

Nearly 46-million. That's how many Americans are living without health insurance. A problem that's only getting worse as the economy struggles to recover.

For some, the lack of health insurance is simply an inconvenience, but for one La Crescent native, it was the difference between life and death.

On the outside, 27 year old Michael Troy Wieser was the picture of happiness. He was good looking, athletic and had a smile that was contagious. Michael's mom Sheila says, "Michael was an amazing guy. He was so talented with sports, but more than that, he had a heart of gold." Growing up, Michael was one of 12 adopted kids, number seven to be exact. But he always found a way to stand out in the crowd. Sheila says, "he never sought the limelight, he just was the limelight because of his talent." Michael was a standout athlete at La Crescent High School. After graduation in 1999, he headed to North Dakota State University on a full athletic scholarship. It was there at the young age of 20, he got some devastating news. Doctors diagnosed Michael with Wilson's Disease, a rare genetic disorder. "What it is, is an excess of copper in the system and it stores up either in the liver, the brain or the kidney and in Michael's case it stored up in the liver. They described it to us as dumping rat poison into your system, because it just attacked all the blood," says Sheila. Although the news was difficult to hear for such a healthy and active young man, Michael didn't let it get him down.

After graduating from N.D.S.U. with a business degree, he eventually landed in Las Vegas. In between the bright lights and glitz of sin city, Michael was emerging as a promising modeling star. "He was good at it and we didn't even realize how popular he was, that they things he did, we didn't even realize that he was doing some of those things." But behind Michael's big smile came the same struggles that thousands of others face everyday. Because Michael had a pre-existing condition and was an independent contractor working as a model, it was nearly impossible for him to get health insurance. Sheila says, "even if he could've gotten the insurance it would've been so expensive and then the medication they would've required according to be totally compliant, was at least $3,000 a month for the medication only." As an alternative, Michael had been taking a less expensive, over the counter medication, but it would prove to be not enough. This past February, Michael checked into a Las Vegas hospital. Sheila says, "we were told by the doctor caring for him out there that his prognosis was grave, his chances were slim, he needed an immediate liver transplant, but because he didn't have health insurance and that it was weekend, and that was an exact excuse , the chances were very slim that Michael could live." With his parents and nine of his brothers and sisters by his side, Michael's condition was deteriorating quickly, his family helpless. But they weren't about to give up on the person they loved so much. "We ourselves as a family started looking for transplant centers around the country. We started calling hospitals ourselves, asking if we could get our son in. We offered to do self-pay, that we would find the money some place to save our son," says Sheila.

Finally, after dozens of phone calls and begging and pleading, the Mayo Clinic agreed to accept Michael as a charitable case. He was put on the highest level status in the country for a liver transplant and the Wieser's arranged medical transportation on their own. But a day after arriving in Rochester, it was too late. "It went so fast, we really didn't have a lot of time. The original doctor who treated him out at Maricare sent us an e-mail and his words to us were that he should not have died, that the health profession failed Michael in this case and failed us." Which is why Michael's mom is now fighting for change. "Are you angry? I'm very angry. In a country such as ours, that a 27 year old man with a genetically inherited disease had to die because he didn't have health insurance." By telling Michael's story to others, she's hoping to save just one person so she knows her son didn't die in vain. "I just hope someone can take Michael's case and use it as an example for what is lacking in our health insurance in the United States. I know he would want me and his family to keep pursuing this."

Sheila is issuing a complaint with the Nevada State Health Department about the way the hospital treated Michael out in Las Vegas. She's also contacting lawmakers and others to try and get some changes made to the health care system.

Comments on WKBT:

Matthew - Saturday, April 04, 2009
I would also like to "Thank You" so very much for interviewing my Mom. For all those who knew Mike and his story, we all miss him so much. He was the ideal brother, son, relative, and friend. We are all hoping that something beneficial comes from the story. Mikey was loved by all who met him. Thanks for turning this tragedy into something very special for our family by covering this story.

missy - Friday, April 03, 2009
Thank you for interviewing my Mom. I am praying that the country can come together on this major issue of healthcare. Families should not have to watch their love ones die because they do not have financial means to access healthcare. It affects us all. We have received so much support. Michael was a true inspiration to all .

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