Atlanta-Area Couple Slapped with $14K Medical Bill Says Mexican Hospital Won’t Let Them Leave Until It’s Paid

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A metro Atlanta couple thought their romantic getaway would be one for the books, but it has quickly turned into a nightmare.

Stephen Johnson and his fiancée, Tori Austin, were vacationing on a Carnival Cruise when Johnson suffered a medical emergency: diabetic shock. According to WSB-TV, the episode landed him at a hospital in the Mexican port city of Progreso, where the Georgia man remained in the intensive care unit for three days.

Atlanta Couple Stranded
Atlanta couple Stephen Johnson and Tori Austin are stuck in Mexico after they say the hospital won’t let them leave. (Photo: WSB-TV / video screenshot)

In the end, the couple was handed at $14,000 medical bill. Now they say the hospital — identified on a receipt the couple displayed as Centro Medico Americano — won’t let them leave until it’s paid. 

“I appreciate them saving my life,” Johnson told the outlet via FaceTime. “But they can’t hold me captive. That’s not right.”

The pair said they’ve had trouble getting access to a Western Union or a working ATM in the town, which is about 3 hours west of Cancún. They offered to sign a promissory note or a down payments, but the hospital refused and is demanding every dime of the $14,000 it says they owe.

Atlanta Couple Stranded In Mexico
A receipt for the medical services Stephen Johnson received. (Photo: GoFundMe)

“The administrator lady here said absolutely not,” Johnson said when they offered to pay part of the bill. [But] “we don’t have $14,000 right away.”

Austin described the moment she says hospital staff  began “pushing and pulling us” in an attempt to physically block the couple from leaving the building Tuesday. In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the pair said hospital staff even locked the windows in their rooms.

“We simply can’t leave until this $14,000 bill is paid,” she added.

The lovebirds were aboard the Carnival cruise just two days before Johnson began experiencing issues. He was advised to seek medical treatment when the ship docked, and was later diagnosed with diabetes, pancreatitis and an acute kidney infection.

Johnson was treated, but the hospital decided to hold him after learning he did not have travelers’ insurance to cover the services rendered.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the Federal General Health Law is is charged with overseeing the rights and responsibilities of hospitals and patients. The embassy further states that, “hospitals can’t retain or attempt to detain a patient, his/her passport, or body to guarantee payment of medical services provided.”

“However, the patient, family members, or legal representative who authorized the treatment is also responsible for arranging payment of the bill with the hospital administration and/or insurance company,” it continues.

Atlanta Couple Stranded In Mexico
Stephen Johnson was treated for diabetes, pancreatitis and an acute kidney infection. (Photo: GoFundMe)

The pair are desperate to get back home and are now working with the U.S. Embassy to make that happen. Their story has since gone viral and offers for help have poured in. Atlanta station CBS 46 reported that one viewer offered to foot the entire $14,000 bill.

Upon hearing the good news, the couple posted a video to Facebook on Wednesday thanking everyone for their support.

“We’re coming home! We’re coming home!” Austin says through tears.

A GoFundMe campaign launched on the couple’s behalf has raised $640.

Watch more in the video below.

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