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Patient Says Health Card Saved His Life

Jason Merrill

Jan. 23, 2004 – In an emergency, getting a patient's vital health information to medical personnel quickly can be critical. Now imagine attempting to get that information across to people in a foreign country who speak a different language, with friends and loved ones a world away.

That's what happened to Shrewsbury, Mo., native Frank Nemeth, 63. Nemeth received a heart transplant in 1987 and takes a long list of medications prescribed by his cardiologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Retired from his job as a computer operator at A.G. Edwards, Nemeth vacations with his wife, Kathy, at the Camino Royale in Cancun, Mexico, every year despite his health limitations. In eight years, there had been no problems. That is until last September.

"My wife and I were having dinner at the hotel, and my head kept turning to the side," Nemeth recalls. "I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was. Suddenly it hit me, and I went to the floor."

"It" was a seizure and stroke. The hotel doctor stabilized Nemeth before transferring him to the Amerimed Hospital of Cancun. However, the Spanish-English language barrier prevented thorough communication between hospital staff members and Nemeth's wife.

"I was hysterical," Kathy Nemeth says. "Even if I knew Frank's medications, I wouldn't have any idea of the dosages."

Fortunately for the Nemeths, they had obtained a medical information card from the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in case something like this happened. The card contains information about medical conditions, medications, doctors, blood type, allergies, organ tissue donation, living wills and permission for emergency surgery.

With card in hand, physicians in Mexico were quickly able to contact Nemeth's physician, Joseph Rogers, MD, a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Together, they were able to work out a plan to get Nemeth healthy and back to the United States.

"While most of the people in that hospital didn't speak English, we didn't need to say anything," Nemeth says. "The card said everything for us."

The Siteman Cancer Center offers the medical information cards to raise money for cancer education support programs in St. Louis. Over one million cards are being used worldwide, according to Barb Dressel, chief executive officer of Medical Information Card, the company that produces the cards.

The medical information cards come in wallet or tag sizes and cost $7.50. For more information on purchasing a card, call the Siteman Cancer Center at 800.600.3606 or click here.