By Emma Hinchliffe
November 25, 2018

Hedda Martin needed a heart transplant, but was rejected as a transplant candidate because she couldn’t afford the follow-up care. The hospital that rejected her suggested she undertake a “fundraising effort” to raise $10,000 and then try again, according to Splinter.

In practice, GoFundMe campaigns and other fundraising efforts have supported Americans’ health care costs for years, with $650 million raised for health care through the platform last year.

But the letter to Martin from the Spectrum Health Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Center—named for the billionaire father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—was unusual for its direct recommendation and rejection.

“The decision made by the committee is that you are not a candidate at this time for a heart transplant due to needing a more secure financial plan for immunosuppressive medication coverage. The Committee is recommending a fundraising effort of $10,000,” the Nov. 20 letter from the clinic said.

Spectrum Health gave a statement to Splinter acknowledging that ability to pay is a factor in transplant decisions:

“While it is always upsetting when we cannot provide a transplant, we have an obligation to ensure that transplants are successful and that donor organs will remain viable. We thoughtfully review candidates for heart and lung transplant procedures with care and compassion, and these are often highly complex, difficult decisions,” the organization said. “While our primary focus is the medical needs of the patient, the fact is that transplants require lifelong care and immunosuppression drugs, and therefore costs are sometimes a regrettable and unavoidable factor in the decision-making process.”

Martin, 60, developed congestive heart failure as a complication from chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer more than a decade ago, according to a GoFundMe page.

The $10,000 level of funding required is enough for two years of a 20% copay for anti-rejection drugs.

“The transplant team does not want to ‘waste’ a vital organ if she cannot afford heart rejection drugs. Understandably,” Martin’s GoFundMe page said. “However, they are not even willing to put her on the list knowing it would still give her time to raise money over a year or so through family.”

Martin posted about her rejection for a heart transplant and the financial terms behind it on Facebook, and her story quickly started spreading, picked up by New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others.

The GoFundMe for Martin had raised more than $11,000 on Sunday.

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