Back on both feet

Dinah Farazmand and patientPhysical therapist Dinah Farazmand with a patient at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital, one of the nation's highest "acuity" rehab facilities, meaning it is capable of treating the sickest of patients who also need rehab services.

Emory Rehabilitation Hospital

Trey Morgan, 52, was stunned by the sudden severe pain radiating from his neck down his back.

He had never even heard of an aortic dissection, but he was in the middle of one. The inner wall of his aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, had suddenly torn away, pushing blood between the layers of the vessel wall and away from its usual paths throughout the body.

Arriving by ambulance at Emory University Hospital, he underwent emergency surgery to repair his torn artery. That was only the beginning, however. He remained hospitalized while an ever-expanding medical team worked to address the damage that had been caused to his organs and extremities by decreased blood supply. Transfusions. A tracheal tube and ventilation for respiratory failure. Dialysis for kidney failure. Medicines for nausea and vomiting. Amputation of toes on both feet.

After a month, it was time to transfer from Emory University Hospital to Emory Rehabilitation Hospital, just across the street. Morgan needed intense daily physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help with recovery.

Crossing the street from one hospital to the other was seamless medically, but there was one big difference: Morgan's insurance had covered everything in the acute care hospital, but his policy did not include rehabilitation. Not the hospital stay, the visits from attending physician Dale Strasser and other clinicians, the hours every day of therapy, the medicines, not even the three-times weekly dialysis the same policy had covered while he was hospitalized across the street.

By the time Morgan left the rehabilitation hospital after three weeks, the charges had mounted to more than $160,000, an amount hospital administrators wrote off as charity care. For the hospital, this "Emory pay" felt like money well spent. Physical therapist Dinah Farazmand says the team has never had a more grateful patient. "He worked so hard," she says, "and he appreciated everything we did. He could not thank us enough." When he left, Farazmand and several other therapists were there to wave goodbye. Morgan was smiling—and walking on both feet.