Family Burdened by Medical Debt Years After Daughter's Unexpected Diagnosis

Celebrating another birthday isn’t just a way to mark another milestone for Eliana Mendez. It’s a reminder of the miracle of her life.

“It’s been a complicated journey for her,” said Abdiel Mendez, Eliana’s father.

The journey started in 2015 when Eliana was born. The day was one of the happiest moments for Abdiel and Alejandra Mendez’ lives.

“It was like a dream holding her in my arms,” said Alejandra.

But that dream took an unexpected and terrifying turn just three months later, when the new parents realized something was wrong with their newborn.

“We had no idea what was coming toward us,” said Alejandra.

It turned out Eliana was suffering from heart failure thanks to an abnormality in her heart.

“I just couldn’t believe that was happening,” said Alejandra.

The baby was transferred to a hospital in Miami, where doctors gave the family a grim outlook.

“When we got there, they told us she was on death’s door,” said Abdiel. “She was maybe a day or two away from not being with us any longer.”

The newborn remained hospitalized for months and eventually received the heart transplant that saved her life. She’s now a vibrant toddler who requires continuous care. The family has health insurance, but the bills keep piling on.

“You do more, you make more, you give all you got and you come home and you’re still wondering – there’s just not enough money,” said Abdiel.

The family says some of their bills are already in collections. Their story is not unique.

“Fifty percent of all collections in this country are medical,” said Craig Antico of RIP Medical Debt. The non-profit works to help families like Eliana’s.

“You’re one illness away or accident away from financial ruin in this country,” said Antico. “We need like a secondary safety net – that’s kind of what we’re doing.”

Antico is a former debt collector so he knows how the system works. Debt is bought and sold in bulk, each time at a lower cost, while debt collectors still try to collect the full amount from you. RIP Medical Debt uses donations from people and companies to buy medical debt in bulk.

“You buy it for pennies on the dollar,” said Antico.

But instead of collecting on it, RIP puts it into its debt cemetery where it’s history.

“No one can ever collect on it again,” said Antico.

RIP can target people with medical debt but can’t pick specific individuals to receive the debt forgiveness. The Mendez family is hopeful their debt might be part of whatever RIP buys and forgives in South Florida.

“It’s amazing that there are people out there that do have good hearts,” said Abdiel.

A family friend set up a GoFundMe page to help with Eliana’s medical care, but the family worries about one day having to face their biggest financial fear.

“Bankruptcy, selling the house,” said Abdiel. “At the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever it takes for my daughter.”

If you’d like to help the Mendez family directly, you can make a donation to their GoFundMe page by clicking here.

The NBCUniversal-Owned Television Station Group, which owns NBC 6 and Telemundo 51, has donated enough money to wipe out up to a million dollars of medical debt for viewers right here in South Florida and $15 million in medical debt nationwide.

You can learn more about RIP Medical Debt and how you can join the cause by clicking here.

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