A North Idaho woman says a car crash wound up saving her life.
During a checkup following her injuries from the wreck, doctors found a cancerous tumor in her neck. While she is grateful to be alive, she believes the tumor was captured in imaging months prior and she wasn’t notified. She hopes sharing her story will inspire you to do a double take on your medical records.
"It was December 18th," Kim Gerber said. "I was leaving home. I live in Sagle, Idaho. I was heading to church."
It's incredible the way life works.
"It was a really bad winter day," she said. "The roads were horrible."
The ordinary trip down I-90 wound up changing her life forever.
"I happened to look over and an SUV was sliding over the median," she said. "They hit the front right corner of my car. The air bags went off. My car was totaled."
The next thing Kim knew, she was being poked and prodded at the hospital.
"My daughter took me to the emergency room," she said.
Kim was in pain, but knew that was to be expected. She figured the pain, especially in her neck, would ease up, but each day, and then week following the crash it got worse. Much worse.
"I had days when I couldn't use my right arm at all," she said.
When March hit and that piercing neck pain was still roaring out of control, Kim went to the hospital.
"I had been asking them to do an MRI of my neck," she said.
They did and came back with a bombshell.
"You have a tumor in your neck that's on your jugular vein, and this was the clincher, she said it's grown since it was last seen," Kim said.
Kim was baffled. Then an unrelated hospital trip from several months prior came flashing back.
"I had been in the ER in Kootenai Medical in July of 2016 with chest pains," Kim said. "They had done a cat scan, x-rays to rule out a heart attack."
And on one of those images, Kim claims you can see the lymph node at the center of this, later determined to be cancer.
"That's when they first discovered the tumor, they did not tell me," she said.
In fact, after the ER visit for those chest pains, Kim thought she was in perfect health. She took a risk in order to make ends meet.
"I had insurance in 2016, but my rate got raised to $589 a month," she said. "This was before I had cancer of course. I thought I was healthy."
The past few months for Kim have been filled with surgeries, chemo, and wondering how, if images captured her enlarged lymph node months ago, why she didn't learn about this sooner?
"All of my treatment would have been done in 2016," Kim said. "I would have had insurance. The tumor would have been smaller."
She plead her case to a Kootenai Health patient advocate who agreed to pay one of Kim's surgery bills.
"She said because I was such a nice lady and nice to work with, that they wanted to pay one of my bills," Kim said. "She said I'm really sorry but that's all we can do."
Kootenai Health remains adamant, they did nothing wrong, saying in a letter to Kim, in part "because the lymph node was less than 10 mm it was considered normal and "not reportable."
"But mine turned out not be insignificant," Kim said. "It was cancer, it did grow. Had it not been for the car accident, I would have never known."
But Kootenai Health officials say when they took the image, Kim gave them no reason to look anywhere but where she was having pain, her chest.
"There was absolutely no reason to look at her neck," Communications director Kim Anderson said.
"Even though it was included in the images," Hayley asked.
"Correct," said Anderson. "There were no complaints about her neck."
Anderson says medical professionals were able to review their image to verify the lymph node had changed.
"When they went back in time, they were able to look at previous images, which coincidentally captured an image of her neck," she said. "That's when they had a point of comparison and could see something was wrong."
Kim said fighting to pay her bills has been just as draining as fighting for her life.
"It's been very difficult," she said. "The most stressful part of it is the bills."
She's hopeful her story could inspire others to look a little closer.
"I would like the public to know if you go to the ER for any situation, ask," Kim said. "Ask them, is there anything I should know? did you see anything abnormal? Just ask."
And even with some strikes of horrible luck, Kim is instead choosing to focus on the good.
"It's too late for what happened to me, but I'm very grateful to God, as strange as it sounds that I had this car accident," she's aid. "I believe everything does happen for a reason. That's the only thing that for me, makes sense."
Kim now has thousands of dollars in medical bills. If you would like to know more about her journey.