George Reiff's medical expenses
George is a pillar of the music community and one of the most giving loving souls around. Right now he needs all of our love and support.
Please donate what you can. And send love and light and prayers his way.
100% of funds raised as a result of this campaign (after GFM processing fees) will be directly transferred to George to offset medical and living expenses incurred as a result of his illness.
While beginning new treatment at MD Anderson the week before last, George suffered at least two minor strokes. The strokes, combined with a host of other factors, led to a sudden and sever decline in his condition. On Wednesday night, his doctors suggested that we bring the family to say goodbye as soon as possible.
Those of you who have been through this know that even the best doctors can't predict the future with much accuracy. What we can say with certainty is that George is currently in a condition from which no doctors can see him recovering. They have discontinued all therapeutic treatments, and are now wholly focused on easing his pain and keeping him comfortable as he prepares for his final transition.
I know that many of you will want to understand more of the details, and I hope you'll understand when I say that it's really all that I can do right now to tell you this much. Just know that they have told us that his passage is imminent, but that it could be a matter of days, or a matter of weeks -- there is no way to now, and George is a fighter.
George is not able to communicate at this time, though he is aware of visitors and is sometimes awake long enough to acknowledge them. If you feel strongly that you would like to see him, you may contact me -- I know that the visits give him joy, even though he can't really engage. Our ability to handle visitors is limited, so I hope you'll understand if I don't get back to you immediately.
I expect that we will be in Houston through the early part of next week, but my real hope is that maybe we will be able to move him to a hospice in Austin next week. Right now, we are literally living minute to minute, so there's no telling whether or not that will happen.
George and I spent hours talking about how he'd handle this day when it came. I can promise you that he is prepared, emotionally and spiritually, for the final stage. All of us who have been caring for him had to prepare as well, but I have to admit that the suddenness and unexpectedness of the decline caught me by surprise. We all thought that we had a lot more time -- I guess we always think that....
If we get to return him to Austin, I will post again. Otherwise, please continue to send George your love and support as he navigates the final paths of this journey. As I sit with him today and think back on what we've been through, I remain in awe of the strength, grace, and openness with which he has faced this terrible ordeal. It was his legion of amazing friends that gave him so much of the power he needed to remain conscious and openhearted in the face of pain. I cannot express my gratitude fully to all of you for the support you have provided, but I can tell you that it generally made a difference at the most crucial of times.
Love to all of you,
At my last writing, George was seeing great success as a participant in a Phase 1 clinical trial at MD Anderson. As we celebrated the holidays with hope we received notice from Humana that they would be discontinuing all individual PPO plans in TX come 2017, and thus George’s policy would be canceled.
They sent us to the ACA Exchange to find a replacement. One look confirmed our fears: there was not a single individual PPO plan in TX for 2017 that offered MDA as an In-Network provider. Worse, there was not a single policy that offered an Out-of-Network option at all. This meant that thousands, of Texas cancer patients who relied on the advanced treatments at MDA, and who were not part of group health plans, would be cut off come 2017.
If George were undergoing standard treatment, this would have been a setback. He wasn’t though – he was in a clinical trial available nowhere else in the world but MDA, and it was literally saving his life.
Those of you have been through this understand the rage when the life of someone you love becomes a matter of actuarial tables; when the treatments are there but are utterly unaffordable even if you bankrupt yourself to self-pay.
We were panicked. We researched incessantly until a random Google hit led us to an insurance broker who had posted on article on the MDA issue. That article listed a single plan with an out-of-network option. The plan was ACA-compliant, but was not publicly advertised. We scrambled to beat the deadline. The insurer was not willing to answer any questions for non-customers, so we rolled the dice not knowing for sure if the coverage would support George’s trial.
What we did know was that the plan’s cost was exorbitant. Monthly premiums would run over $800, and the out of network deductible, which had to be met in full before benefits would be paid, was over $14,000. There was no choice, however – this was the price of admission for ongoing treatment at MDA, and even at that it was no sure thing.
We set off for Houston and George’s next battery of scans. We had high hopes, based on how well the trial drugs had been working for him. George woke up that morning short of breath and with intense new pain in his back, but he was determined to make the trip. It got so bad at one point that I pulled over and called an ambulance. The EMT’s checked him out and pronounced him fine.
After a grueling day of scans and tests, we knew from the attitude of our trial coordinator at the first appointment that something wasn’t right. The doctor then came in and confirmed our fears: while the cancer had receded in some areas, it had grown in others. In the world of clinical trials, partial success is the same as failure. George was out of the trial as of that moment, and we were ushered on to begin discussing more traditional treatments.
As George and I sat in the doctor’s office, letting the reality sink in, we were unexpectedly visited by the coordinator from a different clinical trial. That trial was full, but they had a spot open up *that morning* and George was a perfect candidate. The new trial used an experimental, oral chemo drug that targeted the same genetic mutation as George’s first trial and had been showing great success. It’s hard not to believe in fate at moments like that. We immediately went through the intro process and got him registered. As we completed the paperwork, elated that there was another option for him, we were informed that this was, of course, all contingent upon insurance approval. We were not shocked when we heard the next day that they refused to cover clinical trials. At this point, the MD Anderson financial staff stepped up and appealed the rejection and amazingly enough got the insurer to reconsider and eventually agree to cover the trial. We headed back to Austin, completely spent from the ups and downs of the visit, and with George in ever-increasing pain.
None of the doctors had an explanation for the pain, other than the fact that he was withdrawing from a particularly nasty post-op steroid called Dexamethsone, which can be brutal, and there’s no real option but to ride them out - that’s what we thought he was doing.
He returned to MDA at the end of February, ready for the days of tests required to ensure that he was qualified to begin the new trial. The first doctor he saw took one look at him and sent him to the ER believing he had pneumonia. In the ER, a chest CT revealed the true source of his pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath: George had been walking around with a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung) for over 4 weeks. PE’s can be fatal, but even when not they can produce intense pain and weakness for months as they gradually dissolve. George spent the week in the hospital while they stabilized him, and then went through the long process of starting the new trial drug.
A small group of friends were absolutely critical to us during this period as they cared for him when I had to shuttle back and forth for work responsibilities. It was the latest manifestation of compassion and kindness from his amazing network of supporters, and it left both of us humbled. Andrea, Billy, Cass, Kim, and Leslie – you have our undying gratitude.
George is back in Austin, staying with my family. He has a long recovery ahead as the blood clot diminishes a bit each day. We were sent home with a shopping bag full of drugs and a car full of oxygen tanks to support his recovery and you can imagine that the combination of the embolism, the cancer, the steroid withdrawal, and the cocktail of powerful drugs in his system has him feeling genuinely horrible.
He’s getting a bit stronger each day, but the pain and weakness are overwhelming at times. In the background we must track daily the chaos of the ACA repeal. It’s impossible to stomach the abstraction of the process while watching someone you love battle for his life; it’s terrifying as a patient to not know if you will be able to afford care next year.
In spite of everything, and I’ll never know how he does it, George has stayed just as positive as he was at the outset of this journey. I’ve told him many times that if our roles were reversed, I would be handling the situation with a hell of a lot less grace than he is. And while it has been a hellish two months, we are moving forward with a great deal of hope. The new trial drug has shown success in similar cases, and two new drugs that target his specific genetic mutation are coming to MDA to begin clinical trials this spring. And most importantly, he is facing this fight with as much spirit as ever and he is determined to get past this latest setback and continue to heal. Mid-April will be the first scans to check the effectiveness of the new drug, and I will post another update then. We hope that all of you will continue to hold him in your thoughts and prayers as he carries on with the best possible attitude.
Someone told me at the outset of this cancer journey that waiting becomes one of your primary activities - they couldn't have been more right.
George and I are siting in the Targeted Therapy Center at MD Anderson as I type this. He's been participating in an experimental clinical for less than two months, and today was the moment of truth -- the results of his first scans since September.
We had to wait in the office for nearly two hours while the trial director made his rounds, which just ratcheted up the anxiety. It's a Phase 1 trial, so we really had no idea what to expect. I am overwhelmingly ecstatic to report, however, that the news was good -- good beyond our expectations as a matter of fact.
The Dr. showed us the scans and the primary tumor in George's lung has shrunk 62%!!!!
The tumors elsewhere also shrunk very slightly, but more importantly are stable and there were no new metastases! This is a tremendous success, especially in light of the stage of the cancer.
I want to make sure that you all understand how critical your generosity and support have been in producing such a hopeful outcome. Participating in this trial is an expensive proposition, and your help makes it feasible for George. We truly cannot thank you enough.
As far as life outside of treatment goes, George is gradually returning to work. The Finishing School is back up and running, and he is actively doing bass session work and mixing. If you have a project, he is ready to take it on.
Once again, our entire family thanks you for your love and support. 2016 has brought the most brutal and relentless series of losses that I can personally remember, so it gives me the greatest possible joy to bring this happy news to you, during this week in particular!
George and I will be at the ABGB benefit tonight, and we hope to celebrate with you there!
Much has happened since my last post. George is midway through his radiation treatment. The good news there is that they are able to use a very targeted form of treatment rather than "whole brain" radiation, and that should mean far fewer long-term impacts. Thus far George has felt almost no side effects, and that's a great thing considering that he's halfway finished. The radiation is used exclusively to treat the very small tumors that remained in his brain following surgery.
We have now made two trips to MD Anderson in Houston and I can't say enough positive things about everyone we have worked with there. Thanks again to all of you who urged us to go that direction -- you could not have been more on target.
Our trip last week was an emotionally taxing one. On the one hand, we received some unexpectedly bad news; while on the other, some unforeseen good news. The bad news is that a PET scan revealed that the cancer has spread to George's bones. We had been hoping for weeks that this wasn't the case, so it was very hard news to receive.
We had also, however, been waiting on the results of a complex and expensive genetic test. In the words of the lab that offers it, the test "a fully informative genomic profile that helps physicians make treatment decisions for patients with cancer by identifying the molecular growth drivers of their cancers and helping oncologists match them with relevant targeted therapeutic options."
It was explained to us that there was a less than 1% chance that George's cancer would have any of the genetic mutations that the test looks for, so George was preparing to begin chemotherapy on Tuesday -- no one thought there would be much chance of options beyond standard chemo.
As we were discussing the chemo details, however, the report results came in and it turned out that George was, indeed, one of the 1% of patients who had a specific cancer mutation that would allow for a very targeted treatment option. He, in effect, won the genetic lottery when it comes to opening up access to the very latest in experimental cancer treatments.
This is where the wonder of MD Anderson really comes in. An hour later we were in the office of the principal investigator of a clinical trial focused specifically on the mutation that George has. George qualified for the trial, so now we are anxiously awaiting word from his insurance company on whether or not they will agree to at least partially cover it (the treatment is estimated to run about $10,000 per month). Apparently some insurers are reluctant to pay for clinical trial participation, and George has a very basic "catastrophic" policy, but we are hopeful that the MD Anderson research team can convince them (they say they are expert at doing so).
Standard chemotherapy bombs the entire system, but the drugs used in this trial are much more targeted and while they will have harsh side effects they can be taken orally and are generally much easier on patients than typical chemo. More importantly, the researchers said that thus far they have had a great success rate shrinking/slowing tumors with this specific treatment -- a higher response rate than standard chemo for sure.
So, you can imagine how it was for George to swing from the news about the cancer spreading to his bones, to being signed up for a very targeted, cutting edge clinical trial within the space of two hours. Highs and lows. We were exhausted but hopeful as we drove home to Austin.
So, George is doing well in the meantime and is continuing to gain strength. He's still staying with my family, but is in the process of getting his recording studio back up and running (remember that his house had essentially been gutted and restored due to black mold right as the illness was unfolding). He will be focused on mixing gigs, rather than tracking, at first so if you know someone who has a mixing project on deck for the fall, send them George's way. He's hopeful that he can get back to the occasional local live gig later this year as well, but is waiting to see what his strength levels will be like during treatment. He's in good spirits and that is due in no small part to the continuing messages, visits, and general support that he's been receiving from all of you.
With no income coming in since July, and being simultaneously hit with the costs of mold re-mediating his entire house, and brain surgery/cancer treatment, your generosity has been genuinely, critically important to him.
Focus your positive thoughts on the good folks at Humana health insurance for now -- participation in this trial could have a hugely positive impact on George's treatment, so we need them to come through! We should know something by the end of next week -- I will post another update once we do.
In the meantime, I hope to see some of you at C-Boys this evening for another amazing benefit show. On behalf of George, and the entire Reiff family, we send deepest gratitude for your continued support.
George....I can't even find the words. Anything I say will fall terribly short of what we all wish we could express to you. Any compliment I could give you, any description of your talents or your personality would never convey in the slightest comparison...the way we all feel about you. I've never met anyone who didn't like George Reiff. That says a lot! You are so very near and dear to all of us. We love you beyond measure.
How deeply do I love this man. My dearest friend for twenty years. We have had so many laughs, but tonight I am heartbroken- and ready to show him that we are all here for him right now. George doesn't know how much he means to so many. Such a remarkable human being.
Brother George........i know you're feeling the forces of positivity, prayer and the ultimate compassionate love embracing your sweet spirit and soul by a community of true friends and admirers. We are all with you. Rest assured you are never alone....peace my friend.......
once again.. thank you Michael for keeping us updated. it's gut-wrenching to read the reality.. and well.. makes me angry at what your family is up against with all these hoops to jump through and thievery from insurance. i'm sending all my love and as much positive energy as i can for not just George.. but all who are there to support and care for him on a daily basis. i'm so grateful to MD Anderson.. i know it's been such a rollercoaster. George you have always inspired me... now you're my hero.. and that brother of yours and all the other amazing people around you.. i love you all.. for loving George. CR
George's strength is an inspiration to me. I am sorry for all the pain he has endured. You are in my prayers. I am hopeful your treatment will work. Denying a major cancer center is the same as discriminating against a pre existing condition. Our Government leaders do not have to go through this. I have just completed two treatments of Opdivo for lung cancer. Hang in there George xoxo
Hi George, I would like to give you a copy of my e-book, it's in a PDF form at this time. So here is my e-book. You can read it anytime. The name of my e-Book is Miracles Still Happen Today. These short stories are about my testimony and how God work miracles in my like so many times. One day I would like to be able to go to hospitals and give my book away to people who are believing for a miracle to happen to them or for someone in their family. I believe my e- book will help to give them Faith to believe for there miracle that can happen , like it happened to me. ( On Page. 8 ) This story tells you how I got cancer and how I was Instantly healed by God from Cancer not one time but two times, instantly healed back In 1982, I have 13 Tru Miracle Testimonies. And Near Death Experiences. We will be praying for your healing that only God can do. My Albert Culmer. Love Ace & Terry. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BwksGIUV1wrhVElLSUNwRVdzSkNvT3JWZU1VSTJHMEVxUGdv/edit
Oh, George. I can't even imagine who I'd be or what my life would be like if we hand't met all those years ago. You are my friend, mentor, catalyst, confidant, and on and on goes the list. Thank you. I love you so much. I'm here for you - whatever you need. Sending all good things right your way.
Message to George - To the man who has always given more than he's taken, shared his talents without reserve and made even the small apples, like me, feel special...we are here for you and your family en masse. Love you brother - The Damn Torpedoes sending you all the low end we can muster! Geno