NORFOLK, Neb. -- Something as simple as going for a walk with family, Troy Bowers doesn’t take for granted, considering he hasn’t been able to do it for years.
Bowers broke his ankle multiple times and went through a series of surgeries that caused endless pain.
“I was to the point where I was potentially going to lose the lower part of my leg and my foot just because it hurt so bad,” Bowers said.
But then a local doctor gave him hope. Dr. Demetrio Aguila III is the founder, CEO and president of Healing Hands of Nebraska.
Healing Hands of Nebraska is a medical and surgical practice that focuses primarily on the surgical management of chronic pain. Dr. Aguila says a program called the M25 Program is the heart and soul of their practice – inspired by his time serving as a combat flight surgeon in Afghanistan.
“The M25 program is a mechanism by which patients and doctors and communities work together to invest in each other to get the care that they need without causing a financial burden,” Dr. Aguila said.
If somebody can’t afford a surgery, the M25 Program gives them the opportunity to pay for their procedure through community service hours. Healing Hands of Nebraska collaborates with multiple organizations where patients can volunteer.
“You volunteer your time, and then they call me up, ‘she’s finished all the hours you asked for. Ok, send her over’. We’ll do her surgery… no charge… zero charge.”
The M25 Program is what saved the Bowers' family from going into debilitating medical debt.
“We were basically bankrupt, and luckily, when we needed it the most, I guess God was looking out for us and Dr. Aguila was willing to help,” Bowers said.
Bowers chose the Orphan Grain Train for his community service – a Christian volunteer network that ships donated food, clothing, and medical items to people in need throughout the U.S. and world.
“Through I believe like 450 community hours, I was able to have three procedures by Dr. Aguila to finish up my nerve repair. And I don’t even know what that would have cost… thousands, I mean a lot,” Bowers said.
But due to his pain, he wasn’t able to do too many hours. So, he asked his church, Grace Lutheran, for help.
“We had a group of kids of about 6-12 every week pitching in for about an hour a week, and those service hours really added up,” Grace Lutheran Pastor Chris Asbury said.
Every Wednesday, Pastor Asbury and a group of middle schoolers – called Happy Helpers – donated their time to help Bowers.
“Them young people helped me walk, and I got to save my leg because of them and other volunteers," Bowers said. "They made that difference.”
Every time they volunteered, they prayed that they could be a blessing to the Bowers' family.
“As Christ loved us, we love the people around us," Pastor Asbury said. "And we don’t just talk about it, but we find everyday ways to do that. It doesn’t have to be big. Most of the time it’s never newsworthy, but this certainly is.”
You may be wondering, how is this all even possible? Well, it’s more simple than you think.
“We offer significantly discounted fees for our services here compared to what you would find at other practices because we don’t involve the insurance companies,” Dr. Aguila said.
According to Dr. Aguila, patients know exactly what they’re getting into financially when they enter the office. Without insurance involved, there’s no administrative costs for the patient. Dr. Aguila says they can pay everything up front, split up payments over time, or go through the M25 Program.
“Last year, two thirds of all individual bankruptcies in the United States were tied to medical debt,” Dr. Aguila said.
And of those two thirds of people, Dr. Aguila says three fourths had medical insurance.
“We’re gonna work outside the system in order to build a better system that’s fair to patients, that’s transparent,” Dr. Aguila said.
When people use the M25 program, Dr. Aguila doesn’t get paid for his professional fees. However, the office says they don’t look at it as a financial hit. Rather, they look at it as a way to give back to the community, calling it medical mission work in their own backyard.
“Who loses? Nobody. Who wins? Everyone,” Dr. Aguila said.
Now, Bowers can go on with his life, spending time with his family.
“Riding horses with my daughter, fishing with my son, we’re doing great.”
Dr. Aguila says doctors have reached out from all over the world trying to figure out how they can implement their own program. He says he’d like to see M25 change the conversation about healthcare, restore the doctor-patient relationship, and spur a resurgence of volunteerism in the U.S.
“It is my fervent hope, that we will rekindle, reignite in the soul of the American people a desire to volunteer and help their neighbors,” Dr. Aguila said.