On Monday, Cat Davis got a fabulous early birthday present: An independent medical review board overturned her insurance company’s decision to deny her a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant.
Davis, who turned 25 on Tuesday, was ecstatic. “God hears prayers,” she said.
Three years ago, Davis was diagnosed with CREST syndrome, a combination of five diseases – calcinosis, Raynaud’s, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly and telangiectasia. The symptoms of CREST are associated with a generalized form of scleroderma – in Davis’ case, rapidly diffuse systemic scleroderma.
Scleroderma literally means “hard skin.” The disease causes the immune system to attack and destroy healthy body tissue.
In a March story about Davis, she was blunt. “I’m dying,” she said. “It’s time to come home.”
Since returning to Spokane, the 2006 Northwest Christian graduate’s health has continued to decline. “I can’t dress myself anymore,” she said. “My left arm is permanently bent. My mobility is getting worse.”
Esophageal symptoms also worsened. “I’m not allowed to eat solids right now.”
Experimental treatments failed, leaving a stem cell transplant as her only hope. But her insurance company denied repeated requests to cover the procedure. The estimated cost? $175,000. And that doesn’t include travel or living expenses, nor does it include additional tests or her portion of any medications needed.
That’s when friends, family and a lot of strangers stepped in. Classmates from Northwest Christian launched a Cure for Cat campaign. They produced a video, created a website and established Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Word spread and the community responded.
For example, Dutch Bros. donated $1 from every drink sold on Sept. 29 to Cure for Cat. Lines snaked around all five locations for most of the day.
San Francisco Giants pitcher and former Spokane resident Jeremy Affeldt offered to match funds raised up to $10,000.
“Typically we raise around $5,000” with fundraisers like this, said Kevin Parker, who owns the local Dutch Bros. stores with his wife, Kerry. But by the end of the day they’d generated $30,799.53.
“Cat has become very special to us,” Parker said. “She epitomizes grace, strength, courage and candor.”
Spurred on by social media coverage, the community continued to respond. The Spokane Humane Society launched the Cats for Cat campaign. Throughout October, $5 for every adult cat adopted, $20 for every kitten adopted and $10 for every dog adopted goes to the Cure for Cat fund.
Monday’s news that her insurance company will now cover the cost of the stem cell transplant doesn’t mean the fundraising is over. The transplant, part of an FDA-approved clinical trial, will be done at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago in January. “This procedure is a five-year commitment,” Davis said. “I have to cover my deductible each year, which is just under $9,000. I also have to cover my travel and living expenses, any additional tests and my share of medicines.”
It quickly adds up. For example, her portion of the medicine she takes for hands is $1,600 per month.
However, Davis wants to make one thing very clear. “I’ve always believed there’s a bigger purpose to everything I’m going through,” she said. “We’ve decided to set up a Cure for Cat Foundation. Once we exceed my financial needs the funds will overflow into the foundation account. Currently, a lot of money is being generated for research, but very little is going to help people access existing treatments.”
Davis has been overwhelmed by the response of the community. “There are so many people out there who need help, but for some reason my story resonated,” she said. “I feel like ‘thank you’ isn’t enough. I literally believe Spokane has saved my life.”