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Caught in a loophole: Funding problems delay surgery

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Greg Greer has turned to the Internet to raise money for a needed surgery, and his church is organizing a benefit at the end of March.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
Greg Greer has lived the last year in an odd medical and financial limbo.

It began last April while Greer was in an employee training program in Florida. The pain began, deep in his stomach. Then came the bleeding, from his navel. He took a photo with his cell phone and sent it to his mother. "Get to the hospital," she advised.

Painful find

Returning home, he met with doctors who discovered a mass deep in his abdomen. The location of the mass, the pressure of both it and his weight, led to a tear in the navel area -- a paraumbilical rupture.

It's likely the rupture was caused by an umbilical hernia, a congenital defect which is usually repaired in childhood, if at all.

"I've always been a big guy," said Greer, who at age 35 stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 440 pounds.

Double denials

His new employer released him, and he was unable to collect unemployment benefits. He applied for TennCare, but was denied. While painful, his condition is not life-threatening.

The program created to provide health care coverage for all Tennesseans has evolved, Greer says, into one which has limited its eligibility into narrow categories which make him ineligible.

The large mass in his belly is the size of a pair of golf balls, Greer says. Because of his size and the location of the tumor, surgery will be required to determine the nature of the growth -- whether cancerous or benign.

Removal of the tumor and repair of the tear are needed, a procedure which costs about $25,000 at local hospitals.

Through the cracks

He's unable to work -- sitting or standing for long periods of time is impossible. Since his condition may be cured with surgery, Greer says he's been told he cannot qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.

So he's lived in a kind of limbo for many months, returning home to live with his mother, depending on her support and a small savings to survive.

"He falls through all of the safety nets," said Drew Hayes, pastor of the People's Church where Greer attends. "He finds himself without government assistance in a day when it's so freely available to so many."

Internet pleas

Desperate, Greer turned to the Internet, researching his condition on websites, selling his valuables and collectibles online, seeking donations from friends and family through a web site - www.gofundme.com/AbdominalSurgery - established for those in similar medical and financial straits.

Along the way, Greer connected with a surgeon in Glendale, Calif., who offered to provide the duodendal switch (gastric bypass surgery, which he says he also needs) and repairs for half the normal cost.

A date has been scheduled for surgery in mid-April, when Greer will travel with a friend for two weeks for the operation and recovery.

Church helps

The church has organized a benefit for Greer, a fish fry and silent auction at the Agriculture Center on Midland Road, and hope to raise $15,000 for expenses.

The event will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature performances by a Christian performing artist. Also, a benefit account for Greer has been established at First Community Bank.

Greer is hopeful for a good outcome, and a return to the workforce.

He dreams of returning to college, of being a teacher himself and coaching others about budgeting and personal finances.

"I'm a huge fan of Dave Ramsey," he laughed.