Health Hero: Man Struggles to Prove He’s Not Brain Dead


Photo by Penny Mathews

The Daily Medical Examiner continues its coverage of Health Policy as well as its sporadic nomination of Health Heroes with this story of persevering fortitude in the face of malevolent health insurance oppression.

FALLS RIVER FALLS, NY – Larry Hixson is one of the most active brain-dead patients that you will likely ever meet.  As he leans up against a porch column in the brisk spring dusk at his home in upstate New York, he recounts the horror of the last 6 months with the calm of someone grown too accustomed to the nightmare he is living.

“It all started with a car accident last fall and it ended with me being pronounced brain dead in the ICU,” he recounts.  His condition was deemed irreversible, and after several long days, his family decided to withdraw life support.  In a recovery that defied medical reason, he began to breathe again after the ventilator was removed; within one week he was flirting with his nurse and flashing passersby from the bed in his ICU bay.  Unfortunately for Mr. Hixson, the real stink-storm was only just beginning.

When he attempted to have the diagnosis of brain death removed from his medical record, his insurance company, Blue Crutch/Blue Seal, stated that if he were no longer brain dead they would decline payment for the nearly $750,000 in accrued medical bills during his hospitalization.  Without brain death as an explanation for his protracted ICU stay, they deemed that the expenses from his time in the ICU would have been medically unnecessary and, in that case, he would be responsible for the bill.  Rather than face crippling debt, he let the diagnosis stand and attempted to go on about his life.  Little did he know that living life brain-dead is no simple task.

His place of employment, a muffler manufacturing plant on the edge of town, has refused to accept him back to work, given his diagnosis of brain death.

“I can’t have somebody brain-dead working the line.  It just doesn’t make sense,” says Hixson’s former employer Phil Braxwell by phone. “If there were an accident or something, everybody’d say, ‘You potato-head!!  It’s ’cause you let a brain-dead guy run heavy machinery.'”

His estranged wife took control of his bank accounts and disability check after showing the court medical documents verifying his diagnosis of brain death.

“I’ve known he was brain dead for years,” she said in an interview.  “It just took a good knock to the head to prove it to everybody else.”

Hixson has spent countless hours wrangling with insurance and hospital administrators by phone.  Unfortunately, many have refused to talk to him, not believing that he is truly Larry Hixson.  It also appears that brain-dead individuals cannot vote, cannot own property, and can be denied service at most major restaurant chains.

As he lives with the paralyzing effects of a diagnosis he feels he doesn’t deserve, he looks to the future with hope.  He has a dream of a day when he can be judged not by the diagnosis on his chart but by the contents of his cranium.  He dreams of a day when he can eat Popeye’s Chicken without fear of prejudice and can vote for a candidate who doesn’t care whether his cortex is functioning or not.

That day is coming, Mr. Hixson, and The Daily Medical Examiner salutes your quiet courage.

For proving that no diagnosis is too severe to keep him from living his life, Larry Hixson is this week’s DME Health Hero.

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DISCLAIMER: All stories, quotations, medical reports, studies, and news entries are fictitious, created in the interest of humor. They are the creative work of the Daily Medical Examiner staff, and any relationship to actual events present or historical should be considered coincidental. The DME uses invented names for people, businesses, and institutions in its stories, except in cases where public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is coincidental.

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