As a 62-year-old self-employed flooring contractor, Richard Bath knew about aches and pains. Since 2016 a yearly cortisone shot had usually done the trick to help alleviate his hip pain. But when his third one wasn’t helpful, combined with consistent fatigue and bouts of profuse sweating, he and his then fiancé, Carrie, visited Albrecht Free Clinic, a partner of Froedtert West Bend Hospital, to get checked out.

Thanks to volunteered time from health care providers, nurses and others, the Albrecht Free Clinic has provided free medical and dental care to uninsured and underinsured Washington County residents since 1996. The partnership with Froedtert West Bend Hospital also allows the clinic to offer diagnostic lab testing and other donated clinical services. Richard was self-employed and he lacked insurance so he qualified to be seen at the clinic for his hip pain. During that visit in early 2019, he was directed to Froedtert & MCW Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee to receive an abdominal X-ray, free of charge thanks to the partnership between the clinic and the Froedtert & MCW health network.

The X-ray results were alarming. Doctors at Froedtert Hospital found a nearly 6-centimeter-wide abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which is a blood-filled bulge in the aorta — the main vessel that delivers blood to the body. If left untreated, this bulge could rupture and cause severe pain, excessive internal bleeding or death. Richard was told he needed surgery as soon as possible and that if it wasn’t operated on soon, there would be a 25% chance of having it burst, which may be fatal. He immediately traveled to Froedtert Hospital where he received a CT scan and scheduled his procedure. Ten days later, Richard underwent successful minimally invasive endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) surgery at Froedtert Hospital. During this two-hour operation, small incisions are made in the groin area and a synthetic graft is placed within the AAA, allowing blood to flow safely, which alleviates pressure on the weak aortic walls and, most importantly, prevents the walls from rupturing.

Since this minimally invasive surgery allows for shorter recovery time compared to open surgery, Richard spent only two days in the hospital recovering and experienced no pain related to the operation. With the continuous fatigue and profuse sweating gone, Richard was able to travel to New Orleans only two months after his surgery to marry Carrie on the banks of the Mississippi River. Not only is he extremely grateful for Froedtert Hospital’s potentially lifesaving surgery, he is doubly grateful for the fact that it was provided under the Froedtert Health Financial Assistance Program. This program is designed to assist patients who are unable to pay their hospital bills. Patients who qualify for the program receive care with no obligation to pay for services. Eligibility is determined based on income, assets and family size after an application is completed and submitted to Froedtert Health.

“I really do owe the health network my life,” said Richard. “When I was told I had a good possibility of dying, I knew this wasn’t something that should be messed around with.”

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