BREMEN — In the past three months, 26-year-old Bremen resident Jake Sahlhoff has been through a lot.
He was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer in August and learned shortly afterwards that his health insurance plan wouldn’t cover the treatment he needed. Just last week, Jake finally went through surgery to remove his eye — and the tumor inside it.
“I was under for about seven hours,” said Jake of the surgery. “They removed the tumor, the eye, some of the lymph nodes in my neck, and a portion of the bone in my face. (The doctors) were able to test the spot tissue (around the eye) and the tests came up negative, so they are confident they got all the cancer out with the surgery.”
Sahlhoff’s family has been battling with the insurance company over their refusal to cover the surgery and treatments. Jake’s sister-in-law, Amber Sahlhoff, said that an Indiana Department of Labor representative spoke with the CFO of Gurley Leep — Jake’s former employer — about the issue.
“Gurley Leep’s employee health care plan was grandfathered in at a time when health plans were not investigated by the Department of Labor,” said Amber. “Now, (the plan) is not able to be investigated by anybody. The Department of Labor told us we had to go through the court system. Our attorney will be filing an appeal this week, and if they don’t cover it (the case) will go before a judge.”
Gurley Leep’s reason for not covering Jake’s treatment is that the procedure he needed was not the standard of care.
Jake’s doctor, Dr. Pasquale Benedetto of the Bascom-Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, Florida, said that there is no standard of care when it comes to the type of cancer in Jake’s eye. The disease is so rare that a standard of care has yet to be developed.
Benedetto recommended a treatment where Jake received high doses of chemotherapy through an artery several times before surgery. Jake feels good about the procedure he went through.
“With the other treatment options, the chances of living more than 10 years was only 25 percent,” said Jake. “Only 20 people have received the treatment that I just did, and they are all still alive. The shrinking of the tumor (before attempting to remove it) is what makes the difference in survival. Shrinking the tumor killed it before removing it, versus just removing it.”
Through his ordeal, Jake’s strength has come from the support from family and friends. Three benefits to help him pay medical bills have been organized locally, and the Facebook page “Jake — Faith, Focus, and Finish” is followed by more than 500 people.
“People have been amazing — I want to take every opportunity I can to thank everyone involved,” said Jake. “(The benefits) have helped to pay for some of the medical bills, and that’s huge.”
Jake will stay in Florida a little longer to go through more tests and some follow-up chemotherapy treatments, but he’s looking forward to returning home soon.
“It feels fantastic, to know that (the tumor) is out,” said Jake. “I should be cancer-free, and I should live a long life. It’s been a journey. It’s definitely made me more aware of what people are going through…that everyone has hardships. I will be a lot more sensitive to that. Any opportunity that I can even make people smile or have a little better day, that’s a concern I will have now that I never had before. I’ll be grateful for every single day. I want to thank God, I want the praise to go to Him. This experience has humbled me for sure.”