David Rusko headshot

David Rusko

{child_flags:editors_pick}Family hoping for medical miracle

{child_byline}By Trista Thurston

Staff writer


This Christmas, Kim and Dave Rusko are praying for a miracle.

They’ll be spending the holidays at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. The couple must await the results of an insurance appeal, wondering if their son will get the care he desperately needs to recover from a traumatic brain injury.

“We’re just a small-town family with a son who’s lucky to be alive, and we want to bring him home one day,” Dave said.

Their 22-year-old son, David, affectionately nicknamed “Davey,” has been in a vegetative state for six weeks following an accident at West Virginia University.

He was visiting with fellow fraternity brothers after a home football game Nov. 10. Kim recalls her son sent a goodnight message at 8:45 p.m. One minute later, he had fallen down a flight of stairs, and help didn’t arrive for two and a half hours. The WVU senior finance major and Uniontown native was rushed to Ruby Memorial Hospital and has remained in critical condition there since.

Doctors at Ruby told the Ruskos there was little to no hope.

“He has defied the odds up to this point,” Kim said, struggling through tears. “He has come a long way.”

About three weeks ago, the Ruskos received that grim diagnosis, and they were understandably devastated. Another doctor told the family to look into the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a hospital that specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation. The facility has fewer than 200 beds and is selective with admission.

The Ruskos were immediately on board, but Davey needed to be accepted first. He was set to be admitted Dec. 19, but their insurance denied the transfer. Now, the family awaits their appeal to UPMC. Gina Pferdehirt, director of public relations at UPMC Health Plan, said that due to confidentiality, she could not comment on a specific case, but each instance is taken seriously.

“That would be the best facility for him. That’s where we want him to go,” Dave said. “We’re just so frustrated. We were just devastated when they denied it. Truly, this place is what my son needs.”

They’ll do whatever they can to get him there. They feel it’s his only hope at recovery.

The family had no intentions of sending Davey to Atlanta alone. Dave said their eldest and youngest daughters, 28 years old and 5 years old, respectively, flew down Dec. 19, before the family received the denial. They found a home just a few miles from the facility. The two girls were forced to come home Saturday. There’s no telling how long it could take.

Dave said a representative from UMPC informed them it could take 30 days to get a response on their appeal, which he considers “ridiculous.” He doesn’t expect an immediate answer during the holidays but doesn’t want to see days that Davey could be in rehab slip by. Each day is wasted time. There’s no other option, and the Ruskos can’t imagine a total denial. Then what?

“If it’s corporate greed preventing him from going there (Shepherd), shame on them. ... It shouldn’t come down to money,” Dave said.

What if it was their child? Dave implores those at the insurance company to put themselves in his shoes and imagine what it’s like.

UMPC told the Ruskos that Davey’s level of care would be comparable at Ruby, but “that’s not true,” Dave said.

Though he is in a vegetative state, “there’s something in there. We just need to get him to the facility that can get him out of this state.”

Fighting with a large corporation feels like a modern David versus Goliath story. Their hope now is to put pressure on the insurance company, appeal to them on a human level. Dave has even written letters to the CEO of UPMC Health Plan.

“I don’t want this story to die,” Dave said. “Our goal is our son’s health.”

He trusted UPMC with his family’s health, and now Dave isn’t so sure the company has his best interest at heart.

As for how others could help, the family is at a loss.

“I don’t even know. ... We want the public on our side. I’m sure they are,” Dave said.

They’re not asking for monetary donations. They’re asking for prayers and compassion.

“We want people to put the pressure on UPMC to do the humanitarian thing. It’s Christmas. He’s not getting any better.”

The heartbreak of being denied, on top of the immense stress of dealing with Davey’s condition, has almost been too much to bear, “overwhelming to say the least,” Dave said. Their one focus is getting him to Atlanta. Through the whole ordeal, though, the family has remained hopeful.

Davey was a 2015 graduate of Laurel Highlands High School. He was set to graduate from WVU in May, and his parents have since learned that he had already received a job offer.

“He has a lot of friends, a lot of support,” Dave said. “He’s a very good kid that had his whole life ahead of him.”

Prayer vigils and fundraisers have been beautiful and emotional displays.

The Ruskos have heard from others that were once in their situation, sitting with a bleak diagnosis and seemingly no hope. Now, some are living normal lives. Dave said he has heard too many stories not to believe.

“That’s what gives us hope. ... Why can’t my son be one of those people? I believe there’s hope.”

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