It was meant to be their honeymoon.
But instead a Vaughan, Ont. couple found themselves living a nightmare when, on the third day of their visit to the Philippines, Eliza Hilario went into labour and delivered their daughter four months earlier than expected.
Madison Sarah Hilario Leung was born Jan. 15 at 24 weeks gestation, and weighing just one pound, Hilario told HuffPost Canada in an email interview from Manila. Her eyes were still fused shut, and she had a stomach infection and an underdeveloped lung, Madison's father, Kar Leung, added in a phone interview. She required monitors, medications, a ventilator, and blood transfusions just to keep her alive, Leung said, and her care continues to evolve during her hospital stay.
And so far, Madison's care comes with a $60,000 bill, Hilario said, despite the fact that they had travel medical insurance. The costs will continue to climb since the baby likely won't be discharged until around the time of her original due date in May, Hilario said. Now, the parents are pursuing legal action against the insurance company, while also trying to find a way to pay for their daughter's ongoing medical bills.
"Financially, we used up our savings, some friends and family have lent us some money and my aunt started a YouCaring fundraiser. We've also put our home up for lease so we can direct some of the funds saved from mortgage to Madison's care," Hilario said.
"As cliche as it sounds, we are taking it one day at a time and it has really been an emotional roller coaster ride. Madison is a fighter, ironically her name means 'strong fighter,' we only found that out after she was born."
They were cleared to travel and had insurance
Hilario and Leung were married in July 2017, Leung said. A month after they booked their honeymoon trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines, Hilario found out she was pregnant, Leung added. Hilario's family doctor and OB-GYN both said she could still travel, but advised them to get insurance.
"When I purchased the insurance before we left Canada, I told them I was pregnant and they told us I would be covered as long as I was under 31 weeks gestation ... we were supposed to come back to Canada by my 25th week so we thought it would be fine," Hilario alleged.
But on their third day in Manila, Hilario started having back pain. Before going to the hospital, the couple called their insurance company to make sure they would be covered, Leung said. The company assured them that since Leung was less than 31 weeks gestation, it was no problem, and just to submit the receipts, he alleged.
She went into early labour
The back pain was early labour, and despite the hospital's preventative measures, Madison was born a short time later at 24 weeks gestation. An average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.
"It was a haze, all I heard was a few faint cries before she was rushed away to the NICU," Hilario said.
Madison was about the size of a ruler, Leung said. She couldn't open her eyes and needed help to breathe. But she was wiggling around, as if she knew she wasn't in the womb anymore, and that wasn't right, he said.
"I was scared. I'd never seen a premature baby before," he added.
"The doctors told us she was at the cusp of what's salvageable, in terms of whether they could keep her alive."
Their insurance claims for Madison were denied
Madison's birth and the reality of her health situation were stressful enough, both parents noted. But when they called their insurance provider after their daughter was born, they were told that only Hilario's bills would be covered — not the baby's, they alleged. Turns out, there was an exclusion in the policy that said a child born on the trip would not be covered, Leung said.
"We felt misled," Leung said.
The pair are seeking legal action against the insurance company, but their lawyer has advised them it could take up to two years to see any result, Hilario said. And all of Madison's hospital expenses have to be paid up front, she added.
"Since she is in the NICU, we do not want anything to be withheld so we have to keep up with the payments," she said.
Madison's not out of the woods yet
Madison has fared remarkably well, considering the odds that were against her, her parents both said. Today, she weighs just over two pounds, is infection free, and is off the ventilator. But she has complications with her eyes that require laser treatments, and she still has a long way to go before she can be discharged, likely some time in May.
In the meantime, Leung had to return to Vaughan to work and come up with the funds to pay for his daughter's care. He's planning to rent out their condo and will move the family back in with Eliza's parents, he said. If it comes down to it, they'll sell the condo, Leung said.
It's not been easy to be on the other side of the world from his family, he added.
"It hurts more as the days go on."
As of Thursday, more than $15,000 had been raised on YouCaring to help with Madison's care. The goal is $80,000.
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