Doctor Recommends Couple Divorce to Pay for Sick Child's Bills & No Parent Should Have to Do This

Randy and Angela Tindell sit for an interview in their home with a news station.

Angela and Randy Tindell haven't had the easiest road to parenthood. In fact, the Tennessee couple told CBS News affiliate WVLT that they tried to have a baby for 10 years until they finally gave up, and resigned themselves to the fact that maybe it just wasn't meant to be. Ironically, it wasn't too long after that Angela finally got the news she'd waited years to hear: She was pregnant at long last.

Unfortunately, the Tindells couldn't have known the challenges that would await them when they finally became a mom and dad.

  • Their medical woes started during Angela's pregnancy, which was categorized as high risk because she was 42.

    Despite safely delivering their son, Jackson, six years ago, the newborn spent his early months in the NICU under round-the-clock medical care.

    "He's come a long way," Angela told WVLT. "There was a time they deemed him medically fragile, which meant, 'we're not guaranteeing that this baby will survive.' He's always been a fighter."

    Now in kindergarten, the Tindells's pride and joy still has medical complications that require constant care. In addition to needing a feeding tube, Jackson also requires speech, occupational, and feeding therapy.

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  • Needless to say, the stress of Jackson's care, compounded by the mounting medical costs, can be overwhelming.

    And yet, it's a constant stress the Tindells have had to live with, trying however they can to scrape together the money each month.

    "You know that your child needs this therapy, or he may need a procedure," Randy shared, "but you also know that there is no physical way that you can come up with that kind of money."

    While Randy says he has a good job, it's still not enough to cover regular household expenses, plus the daunting medical bills which aren't covered by insurance. On paper, the couple makes too much to qualify for their state's Medicaid program, TennCare, which families are only eligible for if they take home less than $18,000 a year; and yet, access to TennCare would greatly alleviate their current financial strain.

    "There's always that fear that you're not going to get it, you're not going to be able to get what your child needs," Angela said. "Yet you get up every day, and you try your hardest, and you work your hardest."

  • It's for this reason that a doctor recently floated the topic of divorce, explaining that if they legally separated, Angela may qualify for TennCare. 

    Eden Strong and her son sit on the couch, posing for the camera.
    Eden Strong

    For the record, the Tindells aren't considering that option. But as shocking as it sounds, it's not unheard of. Eden Strong, a writer and mother of three living in Illinois, got the same suggestion several years ago from a doctor. In fact, she wrote about it last month in an article for Yahoo Lifestyle

    Two of Strong's children have costly medical conditions that have run her an estimated $40,000 in out-of-pocket costs a year, she tells CafeMom. Her 10-year-old daughter has a rare genetic tissue disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, while her 7-year-old son was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 5. The epilepsy, she says, has cost Strong and her husband somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000 over the last two years -- and yes, that's after her husband's insurance kicked in. 

    The cost of her son's prescriptions alone reach a staggering $4,000 a month -- a bill she says her insurance company is constantly fighting. And the stress of it all certainly takes its toll, on both Strong and her husband.

    "It always feels like we won't be able to make it work," she tells CafeMom. "It's the kind of stress that keeps us awake until the sun comes up, and leaves us sitting silently on the couch next to each other the next day; still very much in love, but so worn out that some days all we can do is be 'in in' together, and just know that the other one is there."

    As for how they cope? She admits that's a tricky thing to answer.

    "'Coping' is a funny word, because what does it mean really?" she asks. "Getting up, showering, going to work ... yes, we do that just because we have to. But inside, there are days when we are simply falling apart and the only thing we can do is get up, shower, go to work, repeat; because we have no other choice."

    But both Strong and the Tindells are far from alone. 

  • According to a recent study by The Commonwealth Fund, 79 million Americans have medical debt they're currently struggling to get out of.

    Maybe this shouldn't come as such a surprise, considering medical costs have jumped by 53 percent since 2003, USA Today reports. 

    When you add in the wealth gap, the gender pay gap, crippling student loan debt, and the rise in living expenses ... well, you can see how most Americans are just struggling to get by even if they're not being hit with high medical bills. For those who are though, climbing out of debt can feel nearly impossible -- and falling through the cracks of our broken health care system is basically inevitable.

  • As for the Tindells, there is one spot of hope they're hanging on to: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would grant TennCare to more kids.

    If passed, the bill would help raise that $18,000 annual income bar so that kids in Tennessee whose parents make more money could potentially qualify for TennCare coverage. 

    As State Sen. Kerry Roberts told Yahoo:
    "We don't want to lose the children to an institution because the parents can't afford to keep them at home. We don't want to see parents get divorced, because that's the only way they can qualify for TennCare to get these services for their child."

    For now, the Tindells are crossing their fingers the bill passes -- as are so many other Tennessee parents who have children with disabilities.  
    "What we really want is what's best for our son," Angela said. "We want these therapies and these things for our son now, so that when he does turn 18, he can live a full life and be a productive member of society."  

    According to WVLT, the bill's received unanimous approval in one of its committees so far, but needs more to make it through the finance committee before it heads to the Tennessee Senate floor.