American expat, Jeremiah Gage has been hospitalized 11 days and counting after taking a fall off the Huangyaguan Great Wall in the early hours of Monday, June 22. Gage, 35, was attending a two-day live music event, Yin Yang Music Festival, when he slipped off an unlit portion of the wall and fell an estimated 3-4 meters (about 12-15 feet), landing squarely on a small boulder and fracturing his spine.
Gage, who is uninsured, was taken in an ambulance to three local hospitals but was turned away at each as they did not have beds available. He was finally admitted to Beijing Shuili Hospital located in West Beijing where tests revealed a severe fracture to his number 12 vertebra with a small portion of the vertebra pushing against his spinal cord. His doctors feared paralysis was a possibility and Gage underwent surgery. Titanium rods were inserted into his spine, which according to his doctors “will allow the broken bone tissue to heal.” Though Gage’s operation was successful, another surgery will be necessary in a year and a half to remove the rods.
With a long road to recovery ahead of him, Gage faces a host of other issues, namely financial. The Connecticut native says he sends the majority of his salary home each month to pay off student loan and credit card debt. Further complicating matters, Gage likely won’t be able to return to work for another three months once he’s released from the hospital and will need to wear a special back brace to keep his spine straight. Friends of Gage’s quickly set up a crowd sourcing page on gofundme.com to assist in paying for his mounting medical expenses and to help get his mom to Beijing. Gage’s medical expenses currently total more than RMB 50,000, though to date friends of Gage have raised over USD 3,500 (about RMB 21,400). Additional donations from the company where Gage is employed as an English teacher saw another RMB 11,000 fundraised; an amount which that will cover more than half of medical expenses incurred so far. If you would like to make a contribution to help Gage, click here.
Friends describe Gage as “active and adventurous,” listing various sports and dancing among his favorite activities. “Jera is an incredibly kind and generous human being that has always been there for his loved ones. The news that he may never be able to get on a mountain bike, surfboard, or even a dance floor again, is of course devastating. Our hearts are heavy, but we are keeping faith and praying that Jera will make a 100 percent recovery,” his crowd sourcing page reads.
Situations like this should serve as a reminder to foreigners living in the capital to be cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times and to always have health insurance, even when traveling for a short time. If your company doesn’t offer health insurance, brokers such as Abacare Group or Pacific Prime can help expats find health plans that suit their needs.
Despite his current position, Gage remains optimistic and considers himself lucky to be alive. “If I had landed just a little differently, I might never be able to walk again. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” he says.