Local group helps combat health care debt

North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent Mari­on Leary re­cently launched Sink or Swim, an out­reach ef­fort that con­nects those who need help af­ford­ing life-sav­ing ser­vices with an­onym­ous donors world­wide.

Mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans are un­in­sured or un­der­insured. 

In 2009, the U.S. Census bur­eau found that as many as 50.7 mil­lion, or about 16.7 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, was un­in­sured. 

Here in Phil­adelphia, Mari­on Leary, 33 of North­ern Liber­ties, had seen too many people neg­at­ively af­fected by be­ing un­in­sured or un­der­insured, and she de­cided it was time to step in. 

Leary, a crit­ic­al care nurse and re­search­er at the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania, said the break­ing point came when the moth­er of a friend of her’s had to make a dif­fi­cult de­cision due to be­ing un­der­insured for health­care. 

“Her mom lit­er­ally had to de­cide between food and treat­ment,” she said, dur­ing an in­ter­view held Wed­nes­day, Nov. 9. 

It was then that Leary, who also has a back­ground in event plan­ning, de­cided to or­gan­ize and ef­fort to sup­port Phil­adelphi­ans who are un­in­sured or un­der­insured and have been hit with ex­pens­ive med­ic­al bills. 

About six weeks ago she launched Sink or Swim, an out­reach ef­fort that uses the in­ter­net and so­cial mes­saging sites — she said Face­book has had a huge im­pact on the pro­gram – to con­nect those who need help af­ford­ing life-sav­ing ser­vices with an­onym­ous donors world­wide. 

While the ser­vice is non-sus­tain­able – it in­tends to fo­cus on provid­ing one re­cip­i­ent with funds to af­ford a month of treat­ment and new re­cip­i­ents are se­lec­ted every month – Leary said Sink or Swim could help provide brief re­lief for those strug­gling to come to terms with med­ic­al debts. 

“Sink or Swim is just a small band-aid,” she said. “But we have a messed up health­care sys­tem. I’m not smart enough to fix it, but in the mean­time, I want to use my ef­forts to help out in this re­spect.” 

The first re­cip­i­ent of fund­ing through Sink or Swim was Fishtown­er Pete An­gev­ine — who re­cently launched the loc­ally-based Little Baby’s Ice Cream Com­pany.

An­gev­ine was suf­foc­at­ing un­der med­ic­al debts after he re­ceived a liv­er trans­plant. He needed fund­ing of about $330 to af­ford the many pre­scrip­tions he needs on a daily basis. 

Sink or Swim, Leary said, achieved An­gev­ine’s needed goal in just three days, thanks to the out­reach pos­sible through Face­book and the gen­er­os­ity of donors. 

“Face­book is ri­dicu­lously amaz­ing,” said a smil­ing Leary. “We’ve got­ten dona­tions from all over the world.” 

With the fund­ing, they were able to help An­gev­ine af­ford his needed pre­scrip­tions – which amount to about 12 to 14 pills a day - for about six months. 

Ac­cord­ing to An­gev­ine, who was work­ing as a mu­si­cian four years ago when he learned he needed a new liv­er, Sink or Swim sought him out after hear­ing his story and they have been “fant­ast­ic.” 

“I got really, really sick, really, really fast,” he said. “The costs I have to deal with monthly are go­ing to be with me forever.”

Four years ago, when An­gev­ine was just 24, he learned of his con­di­tion after his moth­er suffered a stroke. He said that he had felt tired of­ten and be­lieved he was simply de­pressed un­til someone told him his eyes seemed “yel­low.” 

“I thought I was just bummed out,” he said.

Even then, it took his ankles swell­ing up to the point that he nearly tumbled down a flight of stairs be­fore head­ing to a hos­pit­al to see what was wrong. 

“My girl­friend took me to the hos­pit­al and I came back five weeks later with some­body else’s liv­er,” he re­called. “I haven’t had an adult drink in four years.” 

While in­sur­ance was able to help with the sur­gery, An­gev­ine has been strug­gling to af­ford the pre­scrip­tions and he said Sink or Swim came in and really helped him out. 

Also, about the girl­friend that took him to the hos­pit­al four years ago? She and An­gev­ine got mar­ried re­cently. 

“I’m really a lucky dude,” he said with a grin.

Sink or Swim now has a new re­cip­i­ent lined up and Leary said she is al­ways look­ing for oth­er re­cip­i­ents who are un­in­sured or un­der­insured and could use the life­line that her group hopes to provide. 

While it’s a young or­gan­iz­a­tion, Leary said that it has been suc­cess­ful already and if this con­tin­ues, she’d like to bring it to oth­er cit­ies across the coun­try. 

“I want to get the word out that we ex­ist and want to help,” she said. ••

For more in­form­a­tion on Sink or Swim Phil­adelphia, or if you or someone you know could use the ser­vices the group provides, vis­it Sink or Swim Phil­adelphia’s Face­book page at ht­tp://www.face­book.com/pages/Sink-or-Swim-Phil­adelphia/116398065104691 or Sink or Swim Phil­adelphia’s web­site at www.sinkor­swimphil­adelphia.orgYou can also email Sink or Swim at sosphilly@gmail.com or mail at 630 N 3rd Street, PMB 83, Phil­adelphia, Pa 19123

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com  

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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