Life or Debt: Mother of organ donor killed in crash charged $36K

(WSVN) - Her son was killed in a car accident. Since he was an organ donor, four lives were saved by his generous gift, but now his mother is stunned after she got a $36,000 bill from Medicaid. Patrick Fraser has her story.

Lee Aguilar was a 20-year-old man but still his mother’s baby boy.

Ariana Aguilar: “He was a kid. A 20-year-old kid. Literally a kid. You could imagine what you could feel in that precise moment.”

That moment, two years ago, when Ariana got the call. Her son was in a car accident.

Ariana Aguilar: “They airlifted him to Jackson [Memorial Hospital].”

Ariana and her sister were met by a doctor at Jackson.

Ariana Aguilar: “‘Is he going to make it or what?’ And the doctor looked at her and said ‘No.'”

Ariana was told Lee was brain dead, but he was kept alive because he was an organ donor.

Ariana Aguilar: “When he took out his license, he put ‘Now I’m an organ donor.'”

Four days later, after Lee’s organs helped save four lives, he was officially declared dead.

Ariana Aguilar: “I started crying. I could not believe — I still could not believe it. If this would not have happened to my son, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Lee’s death brought Ariana back to Jesus Christ, where she found peace and comfort.

Ariana Aguilar: “Now I’m a minister.”

The Bible helps her cope with the loss of her son, but these bills from Lee’s death are bringing her pain.

Ariana Aguilar: “Of course it’s not fair.”

A $57,000 bill, 223 pages of the treatment and costs for the four days Lee was kept alive at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Ariana Aguilar: “He passed away. They were keeping him there alive because of the situation with the organs.”

Life Alliance, the organ bank, paid $21,000 of the bill for the last two days Lee was at Jackson.

Since Lee didn’t have any health insurance, Medicaid paid the $36,000 bill for the first two days he was in the hospital.

Ariana Aguilar: “Thirty-six thousand and a hundred and something dollars.”

Patrick Fraser: “Now Medicaid wants you to pay them?”

Ariana Aguilar: “To pay them back.”

When Lee was killed by the drunk driver, an insurance company gave his estate — in other words, his mother — $100,000.

When Medicaid found out, they wanted to be reimbursed for the $36,000 they had paid for Lee’s hospital bills.

Ariana Aguilar: “Now I’m on my feet. Now they want to come after me, so then that means they’re going to go after everybody that is on their feet now also.”

I asked ACHA, which runs Florida Medicaid, if they try to get reimbursed for hospital bills for all patients.

A spokesperson wrote: “Federal and state laws require Florida Medicaid to be responsible for identifying, managing and recovering funds.”

Included in that list of places ACHA can retrieve the money: Lee’s estate.

Ariana Aguilar: “From the moment I got there, the doctors are already telling me he is brain dead. That there is nothing they could do.”

So why did the hospital run so many expensive tests for two days?

A Jackson spokesperson wrote: “Hospitals are required to have two licensed physicians conduct clinical evaluations at two separate times.”

Adding: “They must run assessments of brain stem reflexes and an apnea test, which provides an essential sign of definitive loss of brainstem function.”

Ariana Aguilar: “God gave me a calling.”

Ariana fears, if she doesn’t pay Medicaid, she will face legal troubles. A check has been written for that $36,000 to reimburse Medicaid — money from Lee’s death that she planned on using to help other people.

Ariana Aguilar: “It would be money to help me build my ministry.”

Ariana says, if Lee knew the trouble being an organ donor would bring his mother, he would not be a happy son. And now she wonders about being an organ donor herself.

Ariana Aguilar: “So what happens the day I pass away? My kids are gonna have to pay for me being kept in the hospital extra days?”

Lee’s organ donation saved four lives. Little did he know that decision would leave behind so many headaches for his mother.

Jackson Memorial Hospital Statement:
“We send our deepest condolences to the family of Lee Aguilera. Mr. Aguilera’s mother authorized Jackson to explain he was admitted to Ryder Trauma Center on September 6, 2015 with a brain injury. Following several confirmatory tests, including clinical evaluations, CT brain scans and an apnoea test, Mr. Aguilera was declared clinically brain dead on September 8, 2015.

Under the Uniform Determination of Death Act, hospitals across the country are required to have two licensed physicians conduct clinical evaluations at two separate times before declaring clinical brain death. This process requires physicians to run assessments of brain stem reflexes and an apnoea test, which provides an essential sign of definitive loss of brainstem function.

Once Mr. Aguilera was declared clinically brain dead, he was immediately discharged as a Jackson patient, and readmitted by Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency (LAORA) to begin organ procurement, and the process of finding compatible recipients. During this process, LAORA becomes financially responsible for the cost of organ procurement. This is national standard operating procedure when hospitals treat patients who are then transitioned to an organ procurement process.

Medicaid paid Jackson Health System the cost of emergency care rendered to Mr. Aguilera in the amount of $35,778.76. LAORA also paid $21,828.25 for the cost of organ procurement.”

Currently, the Aguilera family does not have an outstanding balance with Jackson Health System.

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