California teacher who suffered a neck injury can’t leave Ecuador until he pays his hospital bill

Jan 9, 2019

A California high school teacher injured on a trip to Ecuador says he can’t leave the country until the hospital bill is paid in full.

A nurse feeds Alexander Austin during his hospitalization.

Alexander Austin, 28, was vacationing off the coast of Ecuador with friends when he dove into too-shallow water after a beach volleyball game. After a five-hour trip to Centro Medico in Guayaquil, doctors informed Austin he’d shattered two vertebrae in his neck.

Before doctors performed surgery, he couldn’t feel below his neck. The injury put pressure on Austin’s spinal cord, bruising but not puncturing it.

Doctors expect Austin, a chemistry teacher at a high school in Dinuba, Calif., near Fresno, to make a full recovery.

Almost a week after the accident, Austin remains at Centro Medico. Hospital officials won’t let him leave until his bill, totaling about $35,000, is paid, according to Austin. Because his insurance doesn’t cover hospital visits outside the U.S., Austin says he must pay the medical fees out-of-pocket. The hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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“They have my passport,” Austin said of hospital officials, speaking by Facebook Messenger on Tuesday. Dillon Nicholson, who was traveling with Austin, typed for his injured friend, whose motor skills remain weak.

Austin has already begun walking and expects to leave the hospital in about three days. Medical bill issues notwithstanding, he hopes to fly home to California in about a week.

He says he’s “feeling pretty positive all things considered.” He said the care and hospital food have been good, and hospital staff accommodating. He’s even begun picking up some Spanish from the nurses.

“I could be in a much worse situation,” he said.
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Credit: SFGate, www.sfgate.com

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