By Anastasiya Bolton
AURORA, Co. (KUSA) - Farrah Soudani is one of the many people who were vastly affected by the tragic Aurora theater shooting on July 20. She was seriously injured by a device police say shooting suspect James Holmes threw into theater 9.
Besides the immense road to recovery ahead of her, the stress of her mounting hospital bills was daunting to say the least. That stress evaporated once it was announced that she and many of the other victims in the theater shooting would not have to pay hospital bills.
Farrah was 22-years-old at the time of the shooting. She is now 23, and her infectious laugh and sarcasm are back. Her father still calls her by her childhood nickname "monkey."
The first time 9NEWS Crime and Justice Reporter Anastasiya Bolton met Farrah was the Saturday after the shooting in the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Colorado Hospital. Sam and Heidi - Farrah's parents - told her story to help them raise money since she did not have insurance. Farrah was unconscious in her bed with tubes covering her. Her left leg was bandaged because part of it was missing. Her stomach - which had ripped open during the explosion - was still exposed so doctors could continue to work on it. Sam and Farrah are close, and in this state, Sam was worried about their future together.
Farrah can't believe it has been three months since the shooting. She is walking so she can grow muscle in her leg, but she doesn't know yet when she'll be whole again. She doesn't know when the tears will go away.
When Anastasiya went to visit her, she was relieved to see her smiling and vibrant. Anastasiya went to visit Farrah for two reasons: 1) she wanted to see how well she had recovered and 2) she wanted to tell the story of what local hospitals are doing to help Farrah and other victims of the theater shooting.
"Everybody from the ER came to see her," Sam said. "Every single one, they all came and checked on her because they thought she was a goner, and they called her the miracle patient because of it."
Farrah has one large scar from her abdomen to her chest.
"They went in to pump my blood, massage my heart and fix all my organs. They cut me down the middle," Farrah said.
There are scars on the side of her body, and her left leg since a portion of the calf was missing after the explosion. Farrah doesn't have any feeling in that part of her leg.
Farrah says during the hospital stay, she considered walking out because she was so worried about the bills.
"I almost just wanted to say 'Patch up what you can and let me go' because I couldn't do it; I could not pay that. The worst thing in life is: owing money. I hate owing money," Farrah said. "I don't want to spend the rest of the next 20 years paying off hospital bills."
She won't have to. University of Colorado Hospital worked it out with Medicaid and private insurers so that none of their 22 patients or their families will have to pay a bill.
"Normally there would be a co-pay, there may be some deductible the insurance policy requires or the patient would have to pay first. Those have been waived either by the hospital, by the insurer, have been picked up maybe by Medicaid or a private donation," John Harney, president and CEO of University of Colorado Hospital said. "There is no out-of-pocket expense for that patient or a family member."
Physicians, who often bill separately from the hospital, did the same thing. After being paid by Medicaid and private insurance, Harney said University Hospital wrote off over $2 million of the care they provided to the shooting victims.
Not having a huge medical bill hanging over Farrah is definitely helping her recovery.
"I've never had a weight that big lifted off my shoulders," Farrah said.
Four hospitals - including Aurora, Swedish, University and Children's - treated the majority of shooting victims. They worked out deals with Medicaid and private insurance companies to make sure shooting victims didn't have to pay. Hospitals got reimbursed for some of the treatment - but wrote off millions of dollars in expenses.
HealthONE ERs and Hospitals, including Medical Center of Aurora and Swedish Medical Center, provided nearly $500,000 in charity care or write-offs, a spokesperson for the hospital system told 9NEWS. The hospitals didn't charge patients co-pays or deductibles either. The amount does not include the amount physicians wrote off or didn't bill victims.
Swedish's trauma surgeon Burt Katubig was one of the physicians who wrote off the care he provided to the theater shooting survivors.
"We realized this was more of a community sort of incident," he said. "I think we all felt that especially for the uninsured patients this is the last thing they need to be dealing with trying to deal with billing and everything else."
HealthONE treated a total of 28 patients treated. Eight were uninsured or did not provide information. Of those eight, just two were inpatients, and the rest were treated and released from its ERs, the spokesperson told 9NEWS.
Statement from Children's Hospital Colorado:
"Children's Hospital Colorado (Children's Colorado) worked diligently to evaluate each patient circumstance in connection with the Aurora [theater] shooting. Towards that end, Children's Colorado has made compassionate financial decisions along with partnering with commercial insurers and other community entities to ensure that no patient paid out of pocket costs for their hospital stay in relation to that tragedy.
"As a nonprofit hospital, Children's Colorado's mission is centered on providing care and access for all patients who need our expertise.
"Children's Colorado works with all patients in its care to provide financial assistance if necessary and no patient is ever turned away due to inability to pay."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)