A woman from New Zealand is stuck with an over $600,000 hospital bill after she fell nearly 80 feet during a rock climbing excursion in Yosemite National Park earlier this month.
Anna Parsons, 21, was rock climbing the "Snake Dike" route on Half Dome peak in Yosemite with her friend, Jack Evans, when she fell, breaking nearly every bone in her body. Fortunately, her helmet saved her head from injury but was broken into several pieces upon impact.
"I think she was experienced enough and from what I’ve heard she’s been doing, the weeks and months leading up to the trip, she’d been going every day, trying to get really good and working on her technique. Things still happen, I guess, no matter your experience level," said Ben Parsons, Anna’s older brother.
Anna seen during one of her climbing trips. (The Parsons family)
The 80-foot fall
Anna and Jack were lead climbing, which involves the use of safety ropes and clips are attached to quickdraws (equipment that allows the rope to run freely while leading), according to USAclimbing.org. Climbers will clip into the quickdraws as they are established along the route.
"Basically, it was called a runout slab. A runout is where it’s sparsely bolted so you might have 10 or 20 meters between each one. I think she was climbing and clipped in and then went around a ridge that was coming out. I think she was a few distance away from the next clip, so didn’t see it. She might have been 20 meters up from the bolt, the clip that she had gone in, and then she saw, ‘Aw, yeah I better go down to get that one.’ So she started climbing down to clip into that one that she’d missed and that’s when she fell," Ben explained. And while he wasn’t sure it played a factor in his sister’s fall, Ben also mentioned it had rained the day before the climb.
FILE - Half Dome from Washburn Point in Yosemite National Park on Aug. 4, 2021. (Mark Hume/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Ben also noted that he had seen fellow climbers comment on his sister’s accident on social media and many of them knew the exact spot where Anna had fallen and nearly fell themselves.
Jack, Anna’s climbing partner and friend, climbed down as quickly as possible and called 911 after she fell. The search and rescue team was there within 30 minutes to an hour, which sounded like a long time but, according to Ben, Anna and Jack were climbing in a fairly remote area. He noted that Jack was lucky to even get cell reception at their location.
Anna was rushed to the closest hospital where she endured two surgeries, was bound in casts and got many stitches. She had to make the difficult decision to amputate her left leg from the knee down but despite that, she was going to survive and was in good spirits about her recovery — that was until she learned about her hospital bill.
Anna in her hospital bed. (The Parsons family)
Hospital bills: ‘We were kind of freaking out’
After the family got word of what happened to Anna, her parents got on the quickest flight to the United States to be by their daughter’s bedside and after about a week in the hospital, Ben said he and his father figured it was time to settle the finances.
"Me and my dad were like, ‘Aw, we should probably sort out the financial side of things with the travel insurance.’ And I think, coming from New Zealand to Australia, where you don’t pay for health care out of pocket, we were kind of like, ‘Aw yeah, shouldn’t be a problem.’ We thought she might have had a travel insurance that was extremely comprehensive that would be up to millions of dollars or whatever, but she had one that covers up to $250,000, which I guess on a usual trip it would cover, that’s probably what Anna had thought — $250,000, that’s so much money when she’s earning like $10,000 a year, if that, because she’s a student. So she thought that would obviously be heaps," Ben explained.
While Anna did take what seemed like reasonable precautions to travel abroad, her insurance coverage was nowhere near the full amount the hospital was charging her.
"My mom and dad were talking with health insurance and the hospital and they got a rundown of what the costs were. They found out, it was $4,000 U.S. a day for just the hospital bed and then, I think the surgeries were like $190,000 each, and she had two of them, might be more because one took four hours and one took six hours. And she had a spinal fusion that I think was a bit more on top of it. We added it all up and converted it to New Zealand dollars and it was maybe $1- to $1.5-million, so, yeah, a lot of money," Ben said.
"Initially we were kind of freaking out and my parents were thinking they’ll have to sell their house. So we were like, ‘Whoa, this is next level,’" Ben added.
Ben said in New Zealand, a system has been put in place which covers health care expenses when someone experiences an accident.
"ACC, Accident Compensation Corporation pays for any expenses that have occurred as a result of an accident. So any kind of accident like a car accident or rock climbing accident or work accident, it’s all covered. And they’ll pay 80% of your wage if you’ve lost work," Ben said. "So yeah, going to the U.S. and having this happen was quite a culture shock and something we were not really prepared for."
Anna resting in a wheelchair at the hospital. (The Parsons family)
After receiving the immense medical bill, and at the advisement of the hospital, Anna’s family applied for a grant which should help cover nearly $500,000 of bills, but that’s only if she’s approved.
"They applied for a grant from the hospital to cover the hospital costs, like the $4,000 a day and then the spinal fusion surgery, so they’re still waiting to hear back," Ben said.
Unfortunately, the grant Anna’s parents applied for would not cover the additional surgeries due to the hospital contracting surgeons who worked outside of that network.
In addition to those extra charges, Anna’s family is hoping to get her home as soon as possible so that they don’t keep adding to the enormous medical bill they already have. As soon as she’s able to come home, New Zealand will cover any health expenses from there, Ben explained.
"They’re looking at an air ambulance to get Anna back to New Zealand at some point because she probably can’t just jump on a regular flight. She’ll have to have doctors there and be lying down on the plane and there’s risks of blood clots and that kind of thing. That would cost $100,000 or more to add on, so that may be an extra cost depending on when she does come," Ben said.
Anna’s eldest sister started a Give a Little account, which is basically New Zealand’s version of a GoFundMe, to help cover any additional expenses should the grant not come through, Ben said.
"She’s in good spirits. She sent a video of her moving her legs and of her wounds that have been healing up, so yeah, she’s keeping positive and talking about what kind of prosthetic she might get," he continued.
Ben said his sister will continue to enjoy her adventurous and outdoorsy hobbies even after the accident and hopes people will understand, just because something bad happens or might happen, people should still do what they love.
"Otherwise, if we were worried about stuff we would never leave the house, you know? That’s not much of a life, really," Ben said. "We’re just grateful that Anna is alive and we’re really thankful for all the supporters."
While the family waits to get approved for the grant, their Givealittle account has raised nearly $281,000 as of August 23.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.