Can't Pay for Surgery? This Doctor Has a Creative Solution

Demetrio Aguila lets eligible patients put in volunteer hours for operations
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2020 9:49 AM CST

"Who are my heroes? Who are the people I look at and say, 'That's who I want to be'?" For Demetrio Aguila, a Nebraska surgeon specializing in nerve pain, the answer to his own question is his father, also a physician—and one who loved helping people so much he never complained about his long hours at work. Those genes appear to have been passed down to his son, who's making headlines for an innovative program meant to assist people who can't afford surgery. CBS News reports that Aguila, an Air Force veteran, set up his M25 program at his Healing Hands of Nebraska clinic after he saw patient after patient have to turn down surgery because it cost too much. Six months ago, he decided to do something about it, and his idea was a creative one: Let those who qualify do volunteer work in exchange for any necessary procedures.

"We can't ignore the people in our own backyard," Aguila tells CBS. Per KMTV, the program's name comes from Matthew 25:40: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." About 10% of his patients qualify for the program, which figures out the number of volunteer hours depending on how complex the surgery is; other people can help patients fulfill their hours. Reception so far has been positive. "There's nothing more depressing than seeing a bill for ... $24,000, and going, 'And how much of this will my insurance cover?'" patient Jeff Jensen tells CBS, noting that instead he put in 560 hours of volunteering (100 or so people helped) as barter for foot surgery. "This whole practice is about restoring hope for patients by giving them the opportunity to wrest back control of their health care," Aguila says. (More uplifting news stories.)

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