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Sink or Swim Program Helps Uninsured and Underinsured Patients Pay for Lifesaving Treatment

(from l to r: Sandra Kaplan, Jason Cohn, Harry Fisher, Kimberly Fisher, Hayley Fisher, Marion Leary, Jessica Dine, and Erin Sweeney)

Hailey is a five-year-old preschooler who loves Disney princesses, dolls, dressing up, Spongebob SquarePants and Mickey Mouse.  Hailey is also a voracious learner and is always asking questions. One of the top students in her class, Hailey is preparing for the next chapter of learning; her mother signed her up for kindergarten this week.

Her brother, Gabriel, a 10-year-old fifth grader, has won awards for helping others and earned straight As on his most recent report card. He plays soccer every weekend, usually with his mom watching from the sidelines and his dad on the field coaching. In addition to raising her great kids and working, Kimberly Fisher also faces an enormous challenge most parents of young children don’t have to contend with: she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago.

The 38-year-old routinely needs MRI scans and blood work to evaluate the spread of her illness. Recently, Kimberly was told that her lesions have spread to her brain and spine, and if she does not start taking medications to slow the lesions, she will likely become paralyzed within the year. The family’s health insurance helps, but her out-of-pocket costs have now climbed beyond what they can afford.

The Sink or Swim Philadelphia (SOS) program, however, has stepped in to help.

Founded by Marion Leary, RN, BSN, assistant director of clinical research for the Center for Resuscitation Science in Penn’s department of Emergency Medicine, the 501c3 group has supported six people, one per month, since the group was founded in October 2011. This has been possible through the Philadelphia STAKE micro-grant program, private donations, fundraising events, the generosity of donors who give money via Facebook and other social networking platforms, and most recently through support from Penn CAREs – a Penn Medicine initiative founded earlier this year to support and recognize faculty, student, and/or staff efforts to improve the health of the community and increase volunteerism in community-based programs.

“We understand that the economy is tight these days, but it is that much tighter for the recipients we post on the SOS site each month,” said Leary. “Every little bit helps, whether it $1 or $100. The goal of SOS is to hopefully give our recipients a respite, one month (or more), where they do not have to decide between paying for life necessities like food or rent or paying for their medical bills.”

In 2010, an estimated nearly 50 million Americans were uninsured, not including the many others who were underinsured. Working-age adults constitute more than 85 percent of Pennsylvania’s uninsured. One in four Americans lacked health insurance for at least some of 2011 and nearly 70 percent of them went without coverage for more than a year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Leary extends special thanks to others who help make this organization possible, including her volunteers, board members, department of Emergency Medicine staff and faculty, and Penn for their support.

To support SOS Philly and its monthly recipients, visit For additional updates on each month’s recipients and upcoming events, “like” Sink or Swim on Facebook and follow on twitter @SOSphilly.

You can also support Sink or Swim by seeing the Philadelphia Phillies against the Atlanta Braves on July 6 at 7:05. If you purchase tickets at or call 215.463.5000 and use code “SOS,” net proceeds from the sale will benefit Sink or Swim.

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