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June 17th, 2019 started as any other Monday would. That night, the Shorewood Village Board had a meeting to take up a vote on a conversion therapy ban for minors, which I attended with a group of activists I had been working with. I gave an emotional testimony in favor of passing the ban, and moments later, the board voted unanimously to do so. I had felt physically unwell earlier in the day, but this victory made my day, and I was so elated at the completion of the successful work we had done that I ignored it.

I was staying at a friend’s place at the time. We got home and I began to have breathing issues. Soon after, I collapsed on the floor after using the restroom, and I remember calling out to my friend.

“Hey, I need you to call 911! I can’t breathe!”

That was the last thing I remembered before falling into a coma.

I woke up on Thursday morning, nearly three days later after collapsing, with no memory of the last three days. I had no memory of how I got to the hospital or where I was. When I came to, I saw my dad and a few close friends. They told me that I was in the ICU at St. Luke’s hospital on the south side of Milwaukee. I had just come off a ventilator.

It turned out that I had a staph infection in my lungs. My blood oxygen level had dropped to 80%. The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive.

I was confined to a hospital bed because I didn’t have strength and couldn’t move much. I eventually had to learn how to walk again with a walker, and relearn how to do basic things like walking up stairs and taking a shower. I wanted my life to get back to normal – the way I knew it – and I used that as motivation to get better.

Soon after I was able to leave the hospital, the bill came, and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. $80,000. Thankfully, I had a job, and that meant I had insurance that would cover most of that amount. Nevertheless, I was horrified to see the sticker price of my life-saving treatment. If I hadn’t had the right insurance coverage, I would be in tremendous, life-altering debt – a reality for many Americans.

Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Tens of thousands of Americans and their families are forced into this choice every year, and many die because they know they can’t afford the hospital visit. Others take on the debt and are forced into eviction, foreclosure, and homelessness. This, in the richest nation in the world, is unacceptable.

From the day I got my medical bill, I started planning my run for office. No one should be forced to decide between their medical care and their finances. The healthcare system is broken, and I’m going to take the capitol and fix it with a progressive platform that includes expanding Badgercare. I hope you join me in my mission to fix the system for Wisconsin’s most vulnerable.

– Katzenmeyer is a Democrat running for the 15th Assembly District.

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