12/10/2013 05:30 pm ET

Family Fights Insurance Company, Wins Life-Saving Heart Surgery For Toddler

Just call it a holiday miracle.

After a public battle with Western Health Advantage (WHA) insurance company, a California husband and wife are celebrating a successful open-heart surgery for their 15-month-old daughter, Aria Schilling -- a surgery that almost didn’t happen.

Since birth, Aria has suffered from a life-threatening heart condition that requires surgery. But after a debacle at the insurance company, the procedure was nearly cancelled just days before it was scheduled.

According to the Schillings, WHA mistakenly referred them to a doctor at an out-of-network hospital, who they worked with for 10 months. But just before the surgery, the company allegedly realized the mistake and refused to pay for the procedure.

Aria’s father Johan expressed his frustration in the media.

“Really it’s a dollar amount. It’s not because the hospital can’t do the procedure, it’s because it’s not in-network,” he told Fox40. “That’s very disappointing on a base level; it’s infuriating on another: the fact that they would make a dollar decision about my daughter’s care.”

The company reportedly referred the family to another medical facility, but the Shillings fought back.

“I said, ‘I don’t think you realize who I am or how I am, and I will fight this ‘til the end,” Briggette Schilling recalled to ABC. “It’s my child. I am fierce."

Schilling stuck to her word, and this week, they won. After months of appeals, an independent review panel overturned WHA’s decision and allowed the Schillings to have the surgery with their doctor.

“It was a tough road, a long, tough road,” a tearful Briggette Schilling told KXTV. “But it made me realize that we shouldn’t have stopped.”

The Huffington Post reached out to WHA for comment, but a representative said that, due to California healthcare privacy laws, the company could not comment without permission from the family, which it has not received. The Schillings, however, did have a message for parents who might be facing a similar dilemma:

“If you really want the best for your child, do what you need to,” Johan Schilling told ABC. “Research, educate yourself. There are so many avenues for you.”


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