A $4 Million NICU Bill: The Price of Prematurity

“I’m a person that likes to plan ahead,” she said. “So when I found out I was pregnant, I started planning financially — so the fact that she came so early was like, ‘Oh. Oh, no.’ Everything that I had planned was kind of like bumped away.”

[Read more about the ongoing trauma of prematurity.]

Her finances began to deteriorate at the beginning of her pregnancy, she said. She was so nauseated she had to quit her job as a waitress.

Ms. Canarte and her boyfriend were living with his parents at the time in Highwood, Ill., and eventually managed to save up enough to move to a home with enough space for their growing family — but not without sacrifices. After their daughter was born, gas money to visit the NICU in Evanston, Ill., was expensive. While her boyfriend was at work, Ms. Canarte took the train, then walked for 20 minutes, to visit their daughter.

“We couldn’t afford for both of us to be there all the time,” she said.

As soon as she was cleared to go back to work, she found a part-time job as a cashier at a grocery store.

Ms. Canarte applied for S.S.I. funding last July, which helps cover household expenses, but she didn’t receive any money until January.

“We had to kind of scrape by until then,” she said.

The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, a nonprofit based in Chicago, helps families with children in the NICU pay nonmedical bills. Ms. Canarte received help from the organization for Lyft rides to and from the hospital and to pay the first electric bill in their new apartment.

Michelle Valiukenas started the organization in 2018 after her daughter, Colette, was born extremely prematurely and died after nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

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