Family begs insurance company to cover treatment for man battling rare cancer | INFORUM

Local News 26-1-2021 IN FORUM 28

"(He's a) smart kid, very intelligent, athletic, senior class president, and my husband farms, he helps out a lot on the farm," his mother, Leslie Hage, said.

In the the summer of 2020, Leslie said, everything changed. She got a call from one of Damon's housemates right after they called 911.

"They had been lifting weights, and Damon said 'I don't feel well,' and he collapsed," Leslie recalled.

Damon was quickly taken to the hospital.

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"Damon had been diagnosed with a stroke," Leslie said. "(They did an) ultrasound in his heart, and that's when they found the tumor that was in his heart. Rather large, large tumor in his heart."

To find the right surgeon, he was taken to Sanford in Fargo for open heart surgery just five days after the stroke. Leslie recalled the doctor saying they typically wait six weeks for a surgery like this.

Then Damon's condition got worse.

"This was a synovial sarcoma," Leslie said.

This extraordinarily rare form of cancer happens in less than 1% of primary cardiac tumors. The rest of 2020 was spent going back and forth from Richland County to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Damon endured chemotherapy and several other treatments.

Through his work, Damon's insurance company has changed multiple times. He is now with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Through all this, some of the operations are not covered, since they're listed as "investigatory."

"Being on Blue Cross, we've gotten four of his six treatments covered. We're still working on the other two," Leslie said. "These are not inexpensive things. These treatments are $9,000 a piece."

She said even the doctors are stumped, who told her these treatments are often covered without question. Throughout the months of battling both the disease and insurance companies, Damon got a tidal wave of support from friends, family and neighbors.

Visits from friends, dozens of cards, events in town to help raise money, and the tens of thousands of dollars raised on GoFundMe. His landlord is even waiving rent.

"His friends have come and sat outside with masks on, 12 feet away from him so that they could come and be with him," Leslie said.

Leslie is retiring form her job as Richland County's auditor, saying this battle with insurance and taking care of her son is its own full time job.

Monday, Jan. 25, was her last day — and she firmly believes this is the right thing to do.

"Damon might have been able to handle these things, he's very intelligent. He graduated from NDSU, computer science with a physics minor, he's a very smart guy," Leslie said. "But when you're getting chemo, you're in the hospital for four days, then the next week it's knocking you on your butt. Someone who doesn't have someone to help them with these issues, how do they do it?"

The family is hoping for answers from the insurance company so they can get some hope for Damon's recovery.

"He can't wait anymore. We've already put off his radiation a week, which doesn't sound like a lot, but this sarcoma is a very aggressive, soft tissue cancer, and it could be growing crazily and we don't even know it," Leslie said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Nebraska did not respond to a request for comment on Damon's situation.

As of late Monday, the GoFundMe for Hage's treatment had raised $38,100.

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