A life saved by Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Assistance


This week Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill restoring $4.7 million to Emergency Medical Assistance after cuts made during last year’s special session. It guarantees the sickest, uninsured Minnesotans will be given dialysis and chemotherapy regardless of their citizenship status.

That was the case for Luis Fuentes of Minneapolis. Nearly three years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, he qualified for Emergency Medical Assistance even though he was not a US citizen yet. He’s now fully recovered and is insured through another program.

Fuentes says if he didn’t qualify for EMA, he would have died.

In July of last year, the legislature passed and Governor Dayton signed a law barring immigrants like Fuentes from the EMA program. The bill signed on Monday reverses that for dialysis and chemotherapy, but not other medical treatments.

Fuentes emigrated from Peru six years ago. He worked for the Peruvian Air Force and ran his own recording studio. He is a writer and loves music. Especially the music of his country.

He accepted a job offer here in the United States because it meant more opportunities for his children. Fuentes works as the business administrator for a Spanish Immersion school. He has four kids and is the family’s sole breadwinner.

In the last 20 years, Luis never had so much as a cough. Then, in the fall of 2009 he started to have pain on one side of his body. He began losing weight (at least 50 lbs in one month), his skin changed to a sallow color. At night, he suffered from fevers. His shirt would be soaking wet from sweat. Finally, he told his wife to take him to the hospital. As he put it, “ I felt like this was the last day of my life.”

He was taken to United Methodist, where he was stabilized and then sent on to Park Nicollet for tests. Fuentes had cancer, a very aggressive kind. Luckily, he got treatment just in time.

“I asked the doctor if I didn’t go to the hospital when I did would I be dead? He said without a doubt , yes.”

Fuentes spent a total of eight months in the hospital. He saw specialists, received chemotherapy and numerous other treatments. He had no insurance. He said that fact did not matter to the social workers at the hospital.

“Just focus on getting better. We will work it out.”

They did and Fuentes received Emergency Medical Assistance. Without it, he would have been on the hook for more than $300,000 in hospital bills. He says that is just an estimate.

Fuentes has fully recovered and is grateful. He says he worried for his wife and kids-especially who would take care of them if he died.
“I know the United States has an economic crisis, but this kind of service is important. You can do without so many things, but if you don’t have life, you don’t have anything.”

Fuentes is grateful the State of Minnesota made it possible for him to recover and provide for his family again.