Heart Attack Survivor Discusses Value of His Blue Cross Coverage

When we talk about the cost of health care, it’s easy to get caught up in statistics: the numbers that illustrate the rising cost of care, and the dollars that Blue Cross saves the health care system through its various collaborative initiatives.

What often gets lost in the sea of numbers is the personal stories — the tales of men and women whose lives have been transformed by care made affordable by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan insurance.

One such man is John Otterbacher, a psychotherapist and sailing aficionado who has struggled with heart problems since he was in his late 40s. He had his first heart attack in 1996, and has subsequently undergone eight separate heart procedures.

We first became aware of John when he sent a letter to Carolyn Willemsen, the editor of Living Healthy, our magazine for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. Following is an excerpt:

I’ll cut to the chase: I wouldn’t be alive without you guys. Thank you.

John estimates the cost of his various procedures is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I could never have afforded that treatment without Blue Cross Blue Shield,” he wrote in a follow up e-mail.

He goes on to tell about one memorable experience: “A call from my intensive care bed to an unknown angel at Blue Cross Blue Shield who approved coverage of a Medivac flight to Milwaukee for a specialized form of open heart surgery.”

But John’s story goes far beyond his cost of care and how Blue Cross gave him access to the best medical treatment money could buy.

At the heart of his story is his realization that life is about much more than simply surviving from one heart procedure until the next.

“My wife and I had been talking about going sailing for years, so I made a deal with her. I told her that if … I lived until June we’d go sailing,” Otterbacher recalled in an article in the fall issue of Living Healthy. “She laughed, and then she realized I was serious. She said, ‘It’s a deal.’”

When he woke up the next morning, he felt like he had entered a whole new world.

“My goal wasn’t just to survive. My goal was to get strong enough and confident enough to go sailing. That really saved my life in the end ― the dream of going out there with Barb and the kids gave me my life back.”

Otterbacher began to work his way back to health, and was working out at the health club two days after he left the hospital following his last open heart surgery. He also started to prepare his sailboat, Grace, for an ocean crossing.

In October of 1998, Otterbacher, his wife, Barbara, and their two young daughters, Erin and Kate, began their journey across the ocean. They were away for six years and made four ocean crossings, sailing more than 30,000 miles. They lived in Europe and explored places such as Africa and the Caribbean.

“It was quite a family outing,” Otterbacher said. “But life is short, and spending time with my family is the most valuable thing I could do. The reality of our adventure greatly exceeded the dream.”

Their family adventure is chronicled in his award-winning book, “Sailing Grace.” Otterbacher has optioned the rights to make the book into a movie, with the screenplay set to be completed by January.

To find out more about Otterbacher’s story, visit his website at http://www.sailing-grace.com, where you can also view an excerpt from his DVD titled “More than Survival.”

Photo Credit: Yuri Levchenko

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