An Atlanta couple has been stuck inside a Progreso hospital for more than a week, but are coming home soon with a little help from filmmaker Tyler Perry.
Stephen Johnson and his fiancée Tori Austin took a “dream cruise” that turned into a nightmare when Johnson fell ill. The two sailed on Carnival out of Galveston on Nov. 11, but days later went into diabetic shock.
“I thought he just had motion sickness because he had never been on a cruise before,” Austin told Atlanta media. “I was like, ‘Quit being a baby. You’re OK.’”
Docked in Yucatan, Johnson passed over a planned excursion and instead went to the ship’s infirmary, where doctors told him he had pancreatitis, a kidney infection and that his glucose levels were through the roof. Last Thursday, Johnson checked into the intensive care unit the CMA hospital in Progreso.
Carnival made arrangements for the couple to rejoin the cruise five days later, Austin said, but when it came time to check out of the hospital, the two were not allowed to leave without paying their US$14,000 hospital bill in full.
According to Austin, the hospital administrator refused to sign the patient’s release form without getting the money upfront.
“I asked how much the bill was and told them we’d figure it out when we got home,” Austin said. “She said, ‘Oh, no. It has to be paid now.’”
She said the hospital’s staff and local police physically barred them from leaving the hospital on multiple occasions.
One time, she said, the hospital administrator forced them back inside the building with a lid she pulled off a trash can.
“I appreciate them saving my life, but they can’t hold me captive,” Johnson told an Atlanta TV station. “That’s not right.”
On Friday, a spokeswoman for Centro Medico Americano hospital insisted that Johnson isn’t being held captive, but that he’s not allowed to leave because he is still too sick to travel.
“He arrived in grave condition,” the spokeswoman told AJC.com. “Aside from his kidney failure and dialysis, he also has other problems and had to be treated by the cardiologist and other specialists … Right now, he is not in a condition to even travel on a commercial plane. He would have to fly in an ambulance.”
She also said the hospital accepts private health insurance and credit cards. “When the service is done, the patient has to pay,” she said. “We are a private hospital, and here and all parts of the world, payment has to be collected.”
Austin said her fiance does not have private insurance and that the limit on their credit cards is less than $14,000.
The couple reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and thousands of dollars were raised stateside to get them out of the hospital and back home.
A spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs confirmed they were looking into the matter.
But moments after the statement was released, representatives for Tyler Perry announced that he would cover the couple’s hospital bill and fly them home.
“He said, ‘I’m going to pay your bill and I’m gonna bring you home,’” Johnson told Channel 2 after receiving a phone call from Perry. “He is truly saving my life. He is rescuing me.”
Perry is no stranger to charitable giving. In March, he paid for the funeral of an Alpharetta mother of four who was shot and killed outside a bank. He also offered to cover the cost of the family’s rent for six months.