Blood Work

If you´re a medically uninsured North Broward resident, stay healthy -- or else

When Frey, who had been a general contractor in Wilmington, tries to explain how his life fell to such depths, he laughs. ¨You wouldn´t believe it if I told you,¨ he says. ¨Nobody believes it.¨

Upon prodding, he opens up. Frey´s father was a war hero and one of the best golfers ever to come out of Canton, Ohio, once qualifying for the U.S. Open. His grandfather, V.V. Frey, was also a sensational golfer, prompting the Canton Repository newspaper to once dub the clan ¨the teerific golfing Freys.¨

John Frey was touched with superior golf skills himself, but his World War II veteran father didn´t share any tips with him. In a sign of things to come, the former Army lieutenant, scarred from two years in a German prison camp, fell into alcoholism and left his mother when Frey was just six months old.

John Frey came to South Florida to get better. Bad move.
John Frey came to South Florida to get better. Bad move.

His mother, Ruth, went on to marry a very wealthy man in Delaware named John M. Clark, who was a vice president at the DuPont Corp. and owner of a large equipment company. The young Frey led a privileged life, attending the exclusive Blue Ridge School in Virginia. Frey´s relationship with his stepdad was strained, but with the help of his connections, he built a successful business in Wilmington as a general contractor.

¨I was a member of the Wilmington Country Club and the Chamber of Commerce and everything else,¨ he says. ¨I had everything you could want.¨

He married and had two daughters, but that marriage eventually went cold. Then he wed again and had a son. Frey says his business started deteriorating in the mid-1990s, but he kept putting on a good face. In 1996, at the age of 44, he was crowned putting champion and holiday tournament winner at the country club -- and he still has the newsletter to prove it.

Soon, though, both he and his business hit rock bottom. It started with too much booze, then powder cocaine, then crack. ¨The crack finished me off,¨ he says. ¨After that first hit, I was off to the races.¨

His second marriage crumbled and his life went haywire until he wound up in prison for almost two years for violating probation on a theft charge that came while he was in the throes of addiction. While incarcerated, his mother became ill and died. Frey says he´ll never get over the fact that he wasn´t allowed to go to her funeral.

When he got out, he went through rehab and decided to come to Florida because of its reputation for excellent recovery programs. He says he´s been clean for four years, speaks with his now-grown daughters as often as possible, and wants to build a relationship with his son, John Jr., who is now 14.

But even as he stayed clean, his other health problems especially the diabetes kept him down. With no insurance or aid, he gave up hope of getting the psychotropic meds and high blood pressure pills, but he knew he needed the insulin.

He could get prescriptions from the NBHD-run clinics but not drugs, and he couldn´t afford to fill a prescription. So he went without insulin, a ludicrously dangerous thing to do. Predictably, he fell ill and went to the district-run Imperial Point Medical Center emergency room in January, fearing he would fall into a diabetic coma.

There, he was treated and finally given some life-saving insulin.

Then he was hit with a $5,490 hospital bill he couldn´t pay.

Shortly after that, he met the woman he credits with saving his life, his ¨Florence Nightingale,¨ nurse Susan Volkmer. She befriended him and began helping him with his health care. The first thing she did was test his blood sugar level with a machine she had in her home.

¨It was so high there wasn´t a reading, which means it was above 500,¨ Volkmer recounts. ¨It said High, High, High.´ It was off the rocket. Diabetes isn´t something to play with.¨

She bought him insulin, with some of the costs reimbursed by the trust fund, which is controlled by Frey´s estranged uncle. She also found out about the Star program and helped get him an appointment with district workers in February.

Because he lacked the paperwork, he was turned away.

He went back in March. Same story.

He went back May 29. Same story.

¨John ran into bad luck,¨ Volkmer says. ¨He´s trying to get his life back together, and it seems the more he tries, the farther he gets set back. It´s the health system. Somewhere along the way, it got messed up. But he´s a good person, and he deserves good health care.¨

Because of Volkmer, Frey got just that last week. She put the cost of the heart tests at the North Broward Medical Center on her credit card. She hopes the trust fund will reimburse her, but there´s no guarantee.

Frey, who now lives with Volkmer in her condo, has another appointment with representatives of the Star program on June 15, where he´s hoping to finally get the help from the district he needs.

Waiting out in the lobby to get the tests that were already paid for, Frey talked about his life. ¨I´m cursed,¨ he surmised with a hapless smile.

¨You´re not cursed,¨ Volkmer told him. ¨You´re a lucky man, remember?¨

At that moment, it almost sounded true.

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