The couple, Ron and Elissa Merritt, had come to Costa Rica a few days earlier to celebrate her birthday. According to Ron Merritt, they saved two years managing their small carpet and flooring business in Minnesota for the funds to travel. After arriving in the country, they decided to go four-wheeling and took off for a popular place near Jacó, which is where the accident took place.
Mrs. Merritt said while driving on the trail a motorbike approached from the opposite direction causing her to veer to the side and fishtail over the edge of a cliff. A tree 70 feet below broke her fall when it snagged her leg. She said if it hadn’t been for the tree and the helmet, she probably would have fallen the remainder of the distance and died. It was her first time on an all-terrain-vehicle.
Cruz Roja responders from Jacó arrived more than an hour later to the scene. One responder classified the site as popular and usually dangerous for tourists. The agency typically receiving two to three calls a month for similar accidents in the area, he said. The medical technicians had to extract Elissa Merritt vertically for 20 meters before they could move her by ground.
After a 45-minute ride down the mountain, Mrs. Merritt arrived at a clinic in Jacó, where she said attendants took one look at her and said she was too injured for them to help. She was then taken in a private ambulance to Hospital CIMA in Escazú more than two hours away where attendants demanded the money to admit her, said her husband. A CIMA administrator confirmed Tuesday that because the hospital is private, staffers require a down payment before providing treatment.
Merritt said he was able to call his brother in the United States that night and have him wire $5,000 so his wife could immediately undergo stabilizing treatment for her two broken arms and broken legs. But their troubles didn’t end there.
Sunday, the staff at CIMA requested $10,000 more to cover an initial surgery, Merritt said, but the couple didn’t have any more money. A doctor said his wife still needed another surgery, which would cost $25,000 more, Merritt said. He said they have insurance coverage in the United States and proposed flying back to the United States for the surgery, but CIMA doctors would not clear his wife for a commercial flight because she had blood clots in her lungs.
Monday CIMA said he owed $20,000 in total for only the first surgery and said if he didn’t pay they would be kicked out of the hospital within 24 to 48 hours. Merritt said. His wife was fitted with external metal braces and couldn’t walk, he added.
Tuesday Merritt said a medical evacuation flight was pre-approved by the couple’s insurance provider in the United States. At that point he said he was told by a CIMA staffer that he and is wife wouldn’t be allowed to leave without payment. He said he was worried they would fight him in leaving
“It almost feels like extortion,” Merritt said.
However, Tuesday night, the couple had safely left the hospital, according to CIMA staff. And according to family members, a medical evacuation flight from the United States was on its way to retrieve them.
He said much of the medical outlay would be reimbursed by the stateside insurance firm. Then he said he would see that Hospital CIMA received the additional money it was due.
As an aside, Merritt said he could not document his wife’s injuries photographically because someone who stopped to help her at the accident scene walked off with her camera.
The problem tourists have with accidents is a continuing one. Mrs. Merritt is only the latest to face medical and financial problems while visiting here. In contrast, starting last year, Panamá decided to provide medical coverage to all visitors who arrived at its Tocumen international airport for the first 30 days they were in the country.