Dubai family of premature baby struggle to pay hospital bills

The Filipino family may even leave the UAE in a year because the cost of medical care is too high to sustain.

Nicholas Dean Sacramento, the premature baby who weighed only 530grams at birth, with his mother, Susie May, father Christopher Sacramento, and brother Amiel Dane Sacramento, 8 years old. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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DUBAI // The Sacramento family plan to move out of their modest one-bedroom home in Al Nahda to a studio apartment in Sharjah to rein in expenses after the birth of micro-premature baby Nicholas.

The Filipino family may even leave the country next year because the cost of medical care is too high to sustain.

“We may have to go back to the Philippines so we can survive, but we must stay here for a year for the baby to get stronger,” said Christopher Sacramento, who has lived in the UAE for nine years.

“We will move into a smaller, cheaper studio apartment in Sharjah or Ajman, then we can manage to live and support the baby’s requirements.”

One of the smallest babies yet born in the country, a frail Nicholas came into the world at 23 weeks weighing 530 grams.

He was moved from City to Zulekha Hospital once Mr Sacramento learnt his insurance would not be sufficient for extended neonatal intensive care.

The 16 kilometres between the hospitals that would normally take an ambulance about 15 minutes, was painstakingly covered in two hours with the critically ill baby carefully monitored in an incubator. Doctors had asked for the baby to be protected from sudden movement and transported at walking pace.

Mr Sacramento’s policy covered about 90 days’ NICU stay, but baby Nicholas stayed 120 days, with charges climbing to Dh530,000. Asked to pay Dh100,000 to extend the cover, his employer, the wellness firm Technogym, chipped in with half the amount.

But expenses for medication, check-ups and specialists’ fees continue to spiral with the billnow Dh86,000. This does not include the hernia operation and laser procedure Nicholas requires this month.

Other parents recalled moving premature babies between hospitals once they found their insurance would not be sufficient.

“The baby can get really sick during the ambulance move, it is really a horrible situation and I would wish no parent to go through that,” said Samaiya Sakrani, who spent Dh250,000 for a fortnight in the NICU in 2012 when her daughter, weighing 900g, was born at 26 weeks.

“When you’re in there and your child is critically ill, the last thing you want is to worry about paying the bills,” Ms Sakrani said.

“There are parents whose insurance policies will not cover a long NICU stay. We got lucky because we found a government hospital that was cheaper and within budget. We had savings, we had family and friends, so it worked out.”

Dealing with an ill child and rising costs is be distressing.

“You can leave hospital with bills running into hundreds of thousands depending on how sick your baby is,” said Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, founder of support group Small and Mighty Babies. Her son George was born at 30 weeks and spent five weeks in the NICU.

“For new mothers, planning is filled with excitement, buying a stroller, furniture for the nursery, but if the baby comes early, it is stressful if you don’t have money to pay the bills.”