Sue Ballreich had just beaten breast cancer.
She’d had three surgeries in August 2015, successfully eliminating the disease, and by October, she was feeling good. She and her husband Tom were out working on their Beaver Grove property in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, cutting down trees and cleaning up, when something went wrong.
“I ran the same way the tree fell,” Ballreich said.
A split second in one direction or the other could have meant death or a close call. The 62-year-old said the fateful tree landed in the middle, on top of her. She knew instantly she was paralyzed.
Doctors would later discover she’d broken her back, leg, and several ribs. She’d suffered a concussion and fractured her foot in four different places, an injury not even discovered until weeks after the late-October accident.
“You can give up or you can keep on living,” she said. “I’m just very happy that I can still be alive and have a second chance.”
Connie Grillo, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health plan advisor who works in the Marquette Walk-In Center, was looking forward to her meeting with Ballreich at the start of open enrollment to discuss health insurance plan options. Despite her injuries, Ballreich sent her husband in to make sure Grillo knew what was happening. She felt bad about missing their scheduled appointment.
“Her attitude is amazing,” Grillo said of Ballreich. “When he left, I lost it.”
The pair had grown friendly since the first time Ballreich came in shopping for a plan in 2014. Grillo remembers a woman who wanted the facts, frustrated by previous experiences with health coverage. Grillo explained all the options, their pros and cons, and left the decision up to the Ballreichs.
“She was just easy to talk to and informative and knew what she was saying,” Ballreich said. “It was really nice to be around someone who really knew what she was talking about.”
The couple would stop in to see Grillo occasionally when they went into Marquette to run errands. Ballreich would oftentimes bring in her famous homemade caramel as a treat for Grillo and others in the office.
“I don’t do that for too many people,” she laughed.
When the Ballreichs re-enrolled for their health insurance this year, it was over the phone. Grillo had already examined all the available options and made the recommendation to stick with a Gold plan instead of moving up to a Platinum option, something that had been discussed before the accident. The decision would save the Ballreichs money and still provide the level of coverage they needed.
“I trust her,” Ballreich said of Grillo. “I feel very confident that we have the right insurance.”
With more physical therapy in her immediate future and possible surgery for carpal tunnel this spring, Sue Ballreich is focusing on being able to watch her 11- and 14-year-old grandchildren grow up. She’ll also celebrate the birth of a third grandson later this year.
“I’m just very, very happy that I can still be alive and have a second chance,” she said.
This post is part of a storytelling series we call, “Beyond the Card.” These stories will feature Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members, employees, and communities who are making meaningful differences throughout our state.
We invite you to follow Beyond the Card stories here at MIBluesPerspectives.com and through the hashtag, #BeyondtheCard on our social channels. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact us at [email protected].
Photo credit: Zoe Rudisill