Orange County is known for coming to the aid of its citizens. That has been proven over and over again in the last few years following hurricanes Rita and Ike.

Hurricanes are just the tip of the iceberg for one Bridge City family. Mounting medical bills with no insurance, while fighting a life-threatening disease and still trying to repair their storm ravaged home has one family asking for help.

The Wiegands left Bridge City for Colorado just before Hurricane Ike hit in September of 2008. But they weren’t running from Ike, they had taken a job with Linde to build a natural gas plant that would supply fuel to a million homes once the pipeline to the plant is complete.

Since it was a temporary job, they kept their home with all the furnishings in it. Then Ike came. “We just had a little bit more clothes than most Bridge Citians,” said Jessica Slaughter Wiegand, known to most as “Rebyn.”

The storm was hard on everyone, but for the Wiegands, it was just the start of a downward spiral of circumstances.

Rebyn’s husband of seven years, Derek Wiegand, lost his job in January, 2009.
Continuing on her job, building the plant, Rebyn started feeling bad, vomiting and having headaches. “The vomiting started everything that was so bad,” said Rebyn. “That was all through the summer, the guys all laughed saying I was pregnant; which I knew I wasn’t because after you have a couple of kids, you know if you’re pregnant or not.”

Since it was a temporary job she had no insurance to go to the doctor. They had lost their insurance when Derek lost his job and the cost of individual insurance was more than they could afford. Knowing she needed to complete the job, she continued to work even though she felt so ill.

“I got laid off on July 31 and we drove straight on home.”

Toward the end of August, Derek found employment and their 5-year-old, Jadyn, started school. The couple also have a 3-year-old, Jacilyn.

“I started to get progressively worse and worse. “Sept. 10 [2009]… I had been vomiting all day and my head was killing me.” Rebyn told her mother, Debbie Slaughter, she needed to go to the emergency room. She declined when asked before, because she didn’t want to run up a large bill. “But if I didn’t go that night, I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“My blood pressure was 204 over 189,” said Rebyn. There was an ER doctor on duty, Chad Hammett, who told her, “Blood pressure doesn’t just get this high in a 33 year old woman who doesn’t have anything else wrong with her,” and ordered an electrocardiogram.

“You know if your blood pressure stays high like that, over time it can kill you kidneys,” he told her.

“No one ever told me blood pressure was associated with kidneys,” said Rebyn
He told her he had seen lots of patients that had untreated high blood pressure for 10-12 years needing kidney and heart transplants.

The results of the kidney test were not good. Hammett told her he didn’t want to scare her but she needed to see a doctor within the next seven days. He prescribed blood pressure medicine and fluid pills.

She went to Bridge City’s Dr. Wesley Palmer, her family physician. He ordered tests, checking her creatine levels.

“Everybody has creatine,” said Wiegand. “It’s a toxin … men have higher levels than women … a woman’s level should not be more then 1.9, at any point in her life.” At the emergency room, her creatine level was 2.6. It could be due to an acute kidney infection, but would return to normal when the infection is rectified. Her levels were 2.9 when tested at Renaissance Hospital.

Palmer checked her into St. Mary Hospital on Sept. 28, 2009. A kidney ultrasound and other tests determined she had Stage 4 kidney disease. “You’re young and have a real good chance for a transplant,” is what the nephrologist told her.

“We’ve had several [opinions] and the answer always comes back the same,” said Wiegand. “The biopsy was sent to Baylor.” Her kidneys are 70 percent scar tissue. She was diagnosed with IGA nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys. She was given one to 10 years to dialysis or transplant.

Nov. 17, 2009, she totaled her car. “I was doing good up until then, taking my medicine; but since then, I have started seeing spots.” Other times she feels a vibration in her head. She had sever headaches and vomiting. An opthamologist advised she had pseudotumor cerebri, a condition that mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor. Her optic nerve was 300 times the size it was supposed to be and her cranial cavity had no room from the fluid. They gave her Diomox, a medication that if she continued to take it, would finish off her kidneys. “So then you have to choose. Do I give up on my kidneys, that gave up on me or do I give up on my eyesight?”

She began dialysis March 1. Doctors told her she needed to lose 100 pounds before they could do a transplant, of which she is less than 36 pounds away. “I’m very compliant.” She does everything the doctors tell her to do, to make sure she is eligible for transplant when the time comes.

Medicare disability kicks in 90 days after dialysis begins which was June 1. It will take care of 80 percent of her future bills, but it does nothing to cover the $200,000 in bills already incurred. They have used their savings trying to take care of medical expenses that have to be paid up front, while also putting their house back together after Ike.

A barbecue benefit and silent auction is planned for Rebyn at 10 a.m. June 19 at the Bridge City Community Center. The silent auction will include salon certificates, perm, cosmetics by Stephanie Ashworth of A Cut Above, photo shoots, purses and an autographed hard copy of “If the Devil Had a Wife” signed by author Rebecca Stark Nugent. Many other items will be available.

LifeShare Blood Center will also be on-hand to accept blood donations.

Auction bidding ends at 5 p.m. Barbecue dinners cost $7 and can be pre-ordered by calling (409) 792-9909.

Donations of silent auction items can be made by calling 792-9909. Monetary donations can be made at any Capital One Bank in Wiegand’s name.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.