After dying three times and being brought back to life, and being hit with a medical bill of more than $120,000, John Black is urging people to give themselves the gift of life this festive season and invest in life insurance.
“I knew there was nothing I could do, I kind of gave up and thought, “This is it, don’t fight it. You’re dying. You can’t breathe, let go.”
These are the words of John Black as he recalls the moments before he died after a pulmonary embolism blocked an artery in his lungs, causing him to suffocate.
“The doctors said that not panicking saved my life,” the Knai Bang Chatt general manager adds.
A few weeks earlier, Black travelled on a long-haul flight from the US to Cambodia, a factor he believes may have triggered the fatal blood clot that travelled from his calf, through his heart and into his lungs.
“I was really crammed into the seat and when I transferred at Taipei, I couldn’t walk; my legs were so sore,” he recalls, adding it caused bruising to the outside of both his thighs. “A couple of weeks later, I started getting really bad pains in my legs.”
A search on Google, led him to believe he had deep vein thrombosis so he rushed to Raffles medical clinic. After carrying out various tests and an ultrasound, the doctor diagnosed it as thrombophlebitis, or inflammation of the vein.
A few weeks later, he was in Kep when he started suffering from shortness of breath. “It was a very different shortness of breath,” he says. “It wasn’t like exercise exhaustion; it was something I’d never experienced before.”
Black admits he “foolishly” did nothing and the issue continued to worsen until a few days later when he collapsed from his first pulmonary embolism.
His colleagues helped him to a room, where he suffered from the second episode when he thought he was going to die.
“At that point, I knew I needed medical assistance,” he says, adding a corporate party staying at the resort luckily had a doctor onsite and transport to take him to the hospital. “He took my vital signs and I saw the look on his face,” says Black. “He said I had to go to hospital immediately.”
Despite recommendations to travel to Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital in Kampot, Black insisted on being taken to Royal Phnom Penh Hospital – three hours away. “The doctor told me I probably wouldn’t make it,” he recalls.
Thankfully, Black did make it and upon arrival a brain scan, X-rays and ultra sound revealed he had an enlarged heart and liver failure, caused by the lack of oxygen. This meant medics were unable to treat him until he became stable.
That night, during a trip to the toilet, Black collapsed on the floor. “My last recollection was opening the door to tell the nurse I’m finished and what ended up happening was a second pulmonary embolism that caused cardiac arrest,” he says. “I died.”
Life-saving CPR and adrenaline brought him back to life, and he was told he was to be evacuated to hospital in Bangkok. However, before he could travel, doctors needed to unblock his lungs.
“Talk about luck,” he says. “There happened to be the only specialist from Bangkok in Cambodia for that day, who was about to go back to Thailand. He was the only person who can perform this procedure where they go up through your groin, blast one of the clots to put a tube through so you can start breathing before they can medi-evac you.”
He adds only 30 percent of people survive the dangerous procedure.
“It was a really weird feeling when I came too,” he recalls. “There was no seeing a white light or anything but it was very clear you don’t know what happens after death. When I came around, the first things I was thinking were, “How would they have sorted out my apartment?”, “How would my partner and dog have survived?” Really weird practical things.”
Lucky to be alive, Black is now urging others to invest in health insurance – a factor he says hugely contributed to saving his life.
“If I hadn’t had health insurance, I wouldn’t be standing here,” he says. “Already the bill is more than $120,000 and I haven’t had to pay a penny. Without the insurance, I would have had to sell my house in Australia. Somehow, I would have got the money but it would have been a struggle.”
And with Black having to travel to Bangkok every three months for the next year for check-ups, plus being prescribed a pioneering new blood thinner, which isn’t available in Cambodia and costs $500 a month, the medical bills are mounting – expenses that are still being footed by the insurance he secured through Infinity Financial Solutions.
“What happened to me could happen to anybody,” he says. “An accident can happen to us all, at any time. My advice would be to speak to a professional advisor, who knows the insurance industry and who will ask all the questions needed. If I can save one person’s life by getting them to get health insurance, then I have done my job.”
Paul Dodd, of Infinity Financial Solutions shares some tope tips on what to look for in health insurance
1. Do you require inpatient or outpatient cover?
2. Where in the world would you like to have elective treatment?
3. What pre-existing medical conditions and claims do you have?
4. Ensure medical evacuation is included.
5. Check policy wording for sub category limits.
For example, $25,000 for a road traffic accident is a big no no.