published Sunday, December 15th, 2013

All you have to do is ask: Epilepsy Foundation purchases medicine for area twins

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The gist of what Michael McCormick has to say is this: Everybody needs help sometimes.

McCormick's story of need is not typical. He has had a successful career in industrial chemical sales and until only recently, lived in what he called a "big, fancy West Knoxville house."

But when the economy took a downturn, so did his job status. He was demoted from a managerial position to sales representative. Then he was let go.

"I lost my job and no longer had insurance. We have six children still living at home. We have eight kids total," he said.

Michael and Kym McCormick downsized where they could, selling the fancy West Knoxville house and moving into a little farmhouse in Sweetwater, Tenn.

Michael took work doing what he could for money. But expenses were closing in around late summer.

And the McCormicks' 10-year-old twins, both with mild epilepsy, were running out of a costly prescription. The chain store pharmacy said the McCormicks had to pony up $225 for a refill.

Decision time.

Michael and Kym talked about letting a car payment go and using the money for the medicine.

They wouldn't have been the first to do so.

Medical expenses commonly catapult individuals and families into financial freefall, said Kenneth C. Rannick, a Chattanooga bankruptcy lawyer.

"The old days of the friendly doctor just writing things off became much more difficult," he said.

He sees families like the McCormicks regularly, families who get knocked down and then kicked.

"I would say the medical costs compiled with the lost income ... well, they get hit twice," Raddick said.

And sometimes pride gets in the way of asking for help.

Mickey McCamish, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation's Chattanooga branch, said too many people in McCormick's position -- unemployed, financially strapped and needing medicine -- won't reach out.

Chattanooga's Epilepsy Foundation branch is one of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's funded programs.

This year, United Way hopes to broaden financial and social support to its funded and partner agencies with money raised for the Neediest Cases Fund. Beginning annually at Thanksgiving, the Times Free Press asks readers to donate money to the Neediest Cases Fund.

Hundreds of individual donors -- many of them repeating every year -- donate thousands of dollars which help local people in need.

McCamish remembers the September morning when Michael McCormick called the foundation looking for help getting his twins' medicine.

"I could tell in our conversation over the phone his family was first and foremost," McCamish said. "He was putting the needs of his family and his twins above [pride]. You could tell this was a very caring father."

McCormick remembers that being a tough call to make. He'd never needed to ask anyone for help.

"It was quite a shock when all this occured," he said.

But the call paid off instantly.

McCamish asked to be put in touch with the pharmacy. He gave them an Epilepsy Foundation credit card number over the phone, and the McCormick twins had their medicine.

To do his part, McCormick checked around at other pharmacies to see if the medicine was cheaper elsewhere.

"It kind of blew my mind what I found out," he said.

A little mom-and-pop pharmacy in Sweetwater would fill the epilepsy prescriptions -- without insurance -- for $36.

"I said 'You've got to be kidding me. This can't be the right stuff,'" McCormick said.

But it was. Now he buys all the family's medicines there.

He's also back in a good job and expects to have the family insured again starting Jan. 1.

Bankruptcy avoided, twins healthy and car still in the driveway.

And one phone call is largely responsible.

"It really bothered me to ask for help, but I didn't know what else to do," McCormick said.

But now, he said, "I'm also realizing that everybody can use help."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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