No answers for uninsured comatose student

By Gus Bode

Although Jessica Cantrell has made progress toward recovery following a motorcycle accident that left her comatose, funding her extensive care has been a painstakingly slow process.

Since the Aug. 23 accident, Cantrell, a senior from Galatia studying French and Spanish and an Army veteran, has been denied insurance coverage by the university and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Since the initial denials, university administrators have worked with Cantrell’s family to obtain insurance to pay medical bills that will exhaust the insurance policy of Lawrence Thompson, the driver of the pick-up truck that struck Cantrell.

The family is waiting for a certified letter from Thompson’s insurance company to get an outline of his coverage, Cantrell’s brother Jonathan Cantrell said.


Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Larry Dietz said he has been staying in touch with Jonathan Cantrell as discussions about her insurance options continue.

Although university administrators discussed reinstating Jessica Cantrell as a student to grant her coverage through the university’s insurance plan, Dietz said this would negatively impact her Medicaid eligibility. Because Cantrell will need continuous care, Medicaid appears to be the best option, according to insurance professionals, he said.

“If she gets Medicaid, then the SIU coverage might delay her being entitled to Medicaid benefits until those funds are expended out, so she might be better off just having Medicaid dating back to the day of the accident,” Cantrell’s brother Jonathan Cantrell said.

Jessica Cantrell was initially denied coverage through U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs because she is being treated at non-military facilities. However, the Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program at SIUC offered to help the family draft a claim to the VA to encourage them to change their position on her care.

The family has also applied for assistance through Medicaid.

“Unfortunately, we still have to wait, but considering where we were, we’re in the best position we could be in,” Jonathan Cantrell said. “We have a couple of alternatives and it’s just a matter of the paperwork going through. We won’t know until an application has been denied or accepted, what exactly she’ll be entitled to. We just have to be patient.”

Jonathan Cantrell said his sister’s recovery has been going well, though he said doctors have not jumped to conclusions.


“She’s still progressing, but very slowly,” Jonathan Cantrell said. “They think she’s going to continue to improve, but they just can’t give a prognosis, and I’m sure part of it is out of caution. It’s really hard for them to predict what’s going to happen next.”

Jessica Cantrell was transferred by ambulance Sept. 25 to Kindred Hospital Chicago Northlake to be transitioned off the ventilator that has helped her breathe since the accident.

“She is where she needs to be until she gets weaned off the ventilator,” Jonathan Cantrell said. “They’re doing some very basic rehab. Until she’s completely off the ventilator, she can’t do significant rehab.”

He said she is still essentially in a coma, but opens her eyes for hours at a time every day.

Because a portion of her brain had to be removed and she suffered significant brain damage, there is no way to predict how much she will recover, he said.

“There have been so many recent advances in neurology and the study of the brain,” Jonathan Cantrell said. “It’s only been 10, 20 years since doctors accepted that the brain can really rewire itself. If you lose a certain portion of the brain like that or you lose function, another part of the brain can come in and take over really, but it has to relearn everything and that takes time.”

Her mother and boyfriend Randy are staying in the area with her and have recently been allowed to groom her.

Friends and family members have organized numerous functions to raise money on her behalf.

“The family has a lot more peace of mind right now and we can focus a lot more on Jessica’s condition and healing for the time being, which is good,” Jonathan Cantrell said. “It’s comforting. A lot of people’s support has helped this come about.”

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Brandy Oxford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 255 or [email protected]