Real ‘Fault in Our Stars’ couple reunited as hospitals work to clear red tape

Posted at 11:21 AM, Apr 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-08 11:21:02-04

(CNN) — Katie and Dalton Prager, a young couple who both have cystic fibrosis, celebrated happy news when they reunited Tuesday afternoon after nearly five months apart: Katie is on her way to getting a lifesaving lung transplant.

The procedure was on hold for months while Katie’s insurance and the University of Pittsburgh squabbled over payment details. CNN brought her predicament to light last week.

“Without CNN I don’t think any of this would have been possible,” Katie said in a statement Tuesday. “I am so thankful for all the support that Dalton and I have received from people all over the world. CNN will always hold a special place in my heart because they have ultimately played a huge part in saving my life.”

The Pragers have been separated since November. Dalton, 23, has been recovering from his own lung transplant in Pittsburgh, and Katie, 24, has been hospitalized at the University of Kentucky with severe lung disease complicated by an infection.

Dalton’s doctors cleared him on Monday to leave Pittsburgh, and on Tuesday he arrived at the doorway of his wife’s hospital room. He yearned to rush into her room but couldn’t take a step farther, because Katie’s infection could kill him.

“It’s indescribable,” Dalton said as he stood in her doorway. “My heart — well, it was like walking through a forest and a deer crosses your path. It just took my breath away.”

As her husband watched from afar, Katie opened the Christmas presents he hadn’t been able to give her — a bracelet and a pendant and a shot glass from Germany for her collection.

“It’s hard not to run in and hug her, but Katie keeps saying ‘stay back!'” he said.

Katie’s ordeal began several months ago when Medicaid denied her doctor’s request for an out-of-state transplant. Like most hospitals in the United States, the two lung transplant centers in Kentucky don’t do transplants on patients with Katie’s infection because it’s too risky.

Her doctor at the University of Kentucky asked for her to be treated at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. For several months, Medicaid and UPMC went back and forth about financial issues.

On Monday, Kentucky Medicaid released a statement saying it would issue a provider number to UPMC, the first step toward getting Katie care there.

“Everyone has the best interests of the patient at heart, and are working collaboratively to overcome any further administrative hurdles,” Kentucky Medicaid spokeswoman Jill Midkiff wrote.

She added that Kentucky Medicaid was “diligently working” to get UPMC’s transplant team enrolled as a provider even before the media coverage.

“I can confirm that UPMC Presbyterian has been enrolled in Kentucky Medicaid, and we are working to complete enrollment of some of our physicians,” said Wendy Zellner, a spokeswoman for UPMC. “Kentucky Medicaid executives are helping us to get this done in a streamlined fashion that overcomes previous administrative hurdles and misunderstandings in this complex case.”

Katie doesn’t know when exactly she’ll get transferred to UPMC, but she hopes to have her transplant in time for their fourth wedding anniversary in July.

“I will hug my husband on our four-year anniversary, I just know it!” she wrote to CNN.