May 2010

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A Second Chance for Taylor

The following article, written by South Bend, Ind., Local 153 Membership Development Representative Troy Warner, originally appeared in the local's newsletter.

Jim Ring opened the envelope and the amount on the bill made his heart stop. The surgeries and treatments at Riley Hospital for Children for his daughter Taylor had totaled up to $395,000—an amount most construction electricians like him had never contemplated.

Calm returned when he got to the last page of the explanation of benefits. "Amount you owe: $20."

"Thank God for health insurance," he said. Because without it, it was a quick trip to bankruptcy. He called his wife, Katie, in the hospital with their daughter, Taylor, who was receiving seven weeks of radiation treatments. "Can you imagine having to pay that bill if we didn't have insurance?" Katie asked.

The problems with Taylor started in March 2009 with a number of apparently unrelated health problems: ear infections, hand, foot and mouth disease, vomiting. The week before Easter, she was lethargic and the vomiting increased dramatically. Katie and Jim took Taylor, almost 2, to the emergency room, where a CAT scan showed she had some fluid in her brain, not a life-threatening illness. The next day, the doctors decided to run an MRI to verify the diagnosis.

Immediately the Rings knew something was wrong. An entire team of doctors entered with the results: Taylor had a brain tumor. She would be driven from South Bend to Indianapolis by ambulance in an hour.

Jim went home to pack a bag and make arrangements for his other children. He called his supervisor at the DC Cook nuclear plant in Bridgeman, Mich., and was told: "Don't worry about anything, just take care of your family and keep us up to date."

His co-workers, fellow members of South Bend Local 153, spread the news and took up a collection. Within three days, they had deposited a large amount of money into the Rings' checking account.

Two days after arriving at Riley hospital, during an 11-hour procedure, neurosurgeons removed 90 percent of Taylor's tumor. But the doctors were concerned that the remaining pieces could branch dangerously into the brain stem. Another surgery to get the rest of the tumor out occurred three days later. Then Taylor's kidneys shut down and the doctors feared she had H1N1. All Jim and Katie could do was pray. A few days later, Taylor improved.

After two weeks, Taylor was well enough to be transferred to another hospital in Indianapolis for radiation treatments. When they got there, the staff needed to be repeatedly reassured there was insurance and the therapy had been approved. Meanwhile, Taylor's room had been filled to overflowing with flowers, balloons and stuffed animals from well-wishers. Katie asked the hospital to distribute some to other patients' rooms in need of brightening.

Seemingly overnight, word spread across the country. They received cards and checks from union electricians in Las Vegas, Florida, Georgia and across the Midwest. The Rings were amazed at the generosity of people they had never met.

Three weeks into the ordeal, Jim returned to work. By that time, his co-workers at the plant had collected more than $7,000. Electricians from across Local 153 dropped off checks. A news crew covered a pancake breakfast that raised $6,000. Katie told them, "When all this happened, we weren't asking anyone for help. They just wanted to."

Seven more weeks of radiation treatment awaited Taylor. The donations, plus the proceeds from another fundraiser, allowed Katie, her mom, Emma, Taylor's twin sister, four-year-old Madison and six-year-old Peyton to stay in Indianapolis while Jim continued to work. Living expenses and medical treatments were racking up at an unbelievable rate.

Altogether, Jim estimates his family received nearly $30,000 in donations. Without them, Jim and Katie would not have been able to stay in Indianapolis through Taylor's surgeries and the whole family would not have been able to stay together during her treatments. "There were many children who were left parentless during the day because parents were at work due to lack of insurance or mediocre insurance," Katie said.

The union-provided health insurance covered the majority of the medical expenses. The support of the hall was just as important.

It's been a year since all this started. Now almost 3, Taylor's outlook is good, although she will always have to worry about cancer risk, because the radiation that got rid of the last bit of the tumor can cause more tumors.

Katie says before this experience, she really did not know what the union was. She said, "It has made me realize that the union and its people are about a whole lot more than just work."

For more, see the Local 153 Web site at

Jim and Katie Ring with their kids Madison, left, Taylor, Peyton and Emma.