Manitoba family fundraising to pay for grandfather's flight home for Christmas

A Manitoba family is facing tens of thousands of dollars medical bills and air ambulance fees to bring their grandfather home in time for the holidays after he was hospitalized on a trip to Bolivia.

Family of Manitoba man hospitalized in Bolivia starts GoFundMe campaign

Neil Nickel, 68, is in a hospital in Bolivia recovering from surgery and a stroke. (Family's GoFundMe campaign)

A Manitoba family is facing tens of thousands of dollars medical bills and air ambulance fees to bring their grandfather home in time for the holidays after he was hospitalized on a trip to Bolivia. 

Neil Nickel travelled to the South American country in early November to visit family but was soon in hospital with flu-like symptoms. He did not have travel health insurance.
Neil Nickel's family is trying to raise money to cover the medical bills and the cost of getting him home. (Tricia Banville)

The family said it turned out he had a ruptured intestine caused by scar tissue from gall bladder surgery 33 years ago. He had an infection and needed surgery. Then the father of three and grandfather of six suffered a stroke.

Tracy Man, Nickel's daughter, travelled to Bolivia with her mother and sister to see him and make arrangements to get him home.

"We wanted no regrets, if anything horrible were to happen, so we went down there to check it out," said Man. "Down there you have to pay cash for everything, so the medical bills were piling up quite fast. So they said the best thing to do would be to get him back to Canada."

The family said Canadian officials at the embassy in La Paz referred them to Ottawa.

"We weren't asking for help for money or to get any of this for free. We just really wanted help setting this up and getting him back to Canada and having the best medical care possible," said Man.

Family bracing for more than $100K in costs

Nickel is now stable enough to come home, but is not well enough to fly on a commercial flight.

The family has found a private air ambulance company to fly him back to Manitoba but the trip comes with a $86,800 price tag. Man estimates that the hospital and medication bills, in addition, will be up to $25,000 by the time her father comes home.
Neil Nickel's wife Ann (above right ) and daughters went to Bolivia last week to visit Nickel and make arrangements to get him back to Winnipeg. (Tricia Banville)

Nickel's wife has since used up a portion of their retirement savings and tried to borrow money to pay for the air ambulance.

The family has since started a GoFundMe page to help with the costs. 

Man says her father didn't have travel health insurance because he was denied coverage for having health issues in the past. She feels that even if he had coverage it likely wouldn't have covered what happened. 

"Even if he did go with travel insurance, there's no guarantee that they would be covering it due to the fact that the torn intestine was due to an undiagnosed pre-existing condition," said Man.

Nickel to arrive in Winnipeg, taken to HSC

Nickel is booked on flight scheduled to leave Santa Cruz de la Sierra at 3 a.m. Tuesday, arriving in Winnipeg around 5:30 p.m.
Nickel's daughter, Tracy Man (above) describes the sitaution as a 'nightmare' for her family. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

He's to be taken to Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre.

Man says her dad has a long recovery and rehabilitation ahead of him. The family is just looking forward to having him home in time for Christmas.

"My dad, being a truck driver, he wasn't able to be home for a lot of things. He missed a lot of school plays. He missed a lot of sports events," she said. "But no matter what, that man made sure he was home for Christmas." 

The family has lived in Niverville for 45 years and the community is rallying around them. Donations are also being accepted at the local Chicken Chef and a trust has been set up Niverville Credit Union.


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