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Southwest Floridians struggle with medical bills during pandemic

Posted at 10:21 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 05:35:58-05

FELDA, Fla. — Like a lot of people in Southwest Florida, Chuck and Norma Crow are still finding their way nearly a year into the pandemic.

"It's a long road man," says Chuck.

"It's hard," he adds.

He says their challenges started when he heard from his doctors before the pandemic did.

"They told us I had cancer and it was in my blood and bones," he says.

"They gave me six months (to live,)" he says.

"I got down to 90 pounds," he says.

"It was really bad."

Chuck and Norma were used to living an adventurous life before he got sick.

"I've been a motocross racer, a rodeo cowboy," he says.

"I rode bulls for ten years in the rodeo."

"We traveled around and I trained with MMA fighters," he adds.

But as cancer threatened his life, he was unable to work.

The same was true for Norma whose time became fully occupied with being Chuck's caregiver.

"That's when the income stopped coming," says Norma who shared a home with Chuck in North Fort Myers.

"And we couldn't make the house payment," says Norma.

"And so we had to sell it and, of course, most of it went to the late payments," she adds.

"Yeah, we ended up with $2,000 out of our house we had in North Fort Myers, says Chuck.

They now live out of an RV in the Hendry county community of Felda.

Norma says their annual income is about $15,000.

"I get Social Security which is about $1300 a month," says Chuck, "that just pays for us to be here."

"Just barely," adds Norma.

"We get food stamps," says Chuck.

Chuck says he's anxious to get back to work but his doctors have advised him against it since his lowered immunity from cancer could put him at risk of a severe reaction to Covid 19.

Meanwhile, they're facing a staggering amount for the cost of his care at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa.

"My bill is over a $1,000,000 at Moffit," he says.

And they say Norma needs specialized medical care too - extensive dental surgery.

They say the cost is around $12,000.

"She needs a specialist," says Chuck.

"It's way too much," says Norma.

"It's something that we can't afford," she adds.

They're not alone.

A professor of Social Work at Florida Gulf Coast University, Tom Felke, tells us Chuck and Norma's situation is not uncommon in Southwest Florida - especially during the pandemic.

"A lot of individuals - particularly those living in poverty - have to decide what are their priorities in their everyday living," says Felke.

He says they often think to themselves: "'Am I forced to make a choice between paying my rent or my mortgage? Maybe a car payment or car repair? Or child care or medical bills.'"

"I think it's important, as we move through the pandemic, that we all have a level of understanding what our fellow citizens are going through," adds Felke.

For Chuck and Norma, coping has taken the form of helping others - even if it's not monetarily.

Norma gestures toward Chuck's long locks and says "The reason his hair is that long is that he's donating it."

They say his hair will go to make wigs for young cancer patients who've lost their hair.

They say it's important they don't lose sight of what they still have - even during tough times.

"Life has changed, that's for sure," says Norma.

"But we're still here," says Chuck.

"Yep," adds Norma.

" We're still together."