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Navy Veteran Had Stroke In Costa Rica, And Now He's Stranded As Family Tries To Pay Five-Figure Medical Bills

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Wauconda woman is fighting to get her dad home after he suffered a stroke in Costa Rica – and the family says the hospital there wants them to pay tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills before they will release him.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Tuesday night, that is money the family simply doesn't have.

Donna Sowa yearns to hug her father again.

"I just want him back in the United States," Sowa said.

Yet currently, Sowa - who lives in Wauconda, Illinois – cannot get to her dad, Richard Rice.

"We didn't want him to go because he was going alone, but my dad loves to travel," Sowa said, "and the last few years his wife was alive, he was unable to travel because of her health.:

After the loss of his wife, Rice vows to see the world again – and Costa Rica was his choice. Yet, on the first day of a two-week trip, his health failed.

Sowa's dad suffered a stroke – and she said there were problems when he got to a Costa Rica hospital.

"They didn't want to treat him at all until they had money. The first charge at ER was $1,500, and then they said we can't admit him without money," Sowa said. "Yet they did a CT scan, and yes, he had a stroke – but, 'We can't admit him without money.'"

Before the family arrived in Costa Rica, things got even worse.

"In the meantime, my dad has a heart attack, so then they put him in ICU and they ventilated him," Sowa said. "Before that, he was just standing by waiting for someone to get there to pay for the treatments."

Once Sowa's nephew got to the hospital, she said the medical cost surpassed $15,000.

"But every day that he's there, they're giving us more bills and more bills - and they have to be paid," Sowa said. "You are not allowed leave the hospital or country."

Unlike domestic travel, most U.S. health insurance plans do not cover international medical bills.

"My dad took out travel insurance," Sowa said. "The travel insurance is only $10,000. The Medevac back home is 40-something."

As more people prepare to hop on planes to take those dream trips, this family warns of an aspect of travel many just don't think about.

"You can't leave the country without that bill being paid," Sowa said. "So that's something I think people are just not aware of. It's not America."

And now, the family of Navy veteran Rice is struggling to pay upfront to get him back to the U.S>

"We don't have that kind of cash, and everyone's credit cards are getting maxed out. We're done. We need all the help we can get at this point," Sowa said. "We are trying to get him home."

Rice's family members are working to get him on a medical flight back to the U.S., which alone is estimated at $40,000. Keep in mind that is in addition to the medical bills they must pay in full before he can get onboard.

A medical fundraiser has been set up. If you'd like to help out, you can find it here.

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