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Injured Utah athletes’ families fear future without insurance
UHSAA » Families of injured athletes fear a policy change that would eliminate catastrophic insurance.

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"I was just coming up and he was returning me to the mat," he said.

Whether he hit the mat too hard, or just awkwardly, a vertebrae snapped and cut his spinal cord.

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His mother was off work that day and rushed to the school. By the time Giles arrived, the paramedics had decided to take her son to Provo. She sat in the front seat, and a paramedic blocked her view to the back when Lawrence stopped breathing.

Injury leads to advocacy » Eddie Canales watched his son make a touchdown-saving tackle during a high school football game in San Marcos, Texas, in 2001. It would be the boy’s last play ever.

In the decade since, Canales has quit his job to take care of his son full time and lead a crusade through his nonprofit Gridiron Heroes to improve long-term care for high school football players who have been paralyzed.

In Texas, where the decision whether to carry catastrophic insurance is left to individual schools, many elect to pass on the policy. Of the athletes Canales has seen in Texas, just four of the 21 had catastrophic policies. His son’s school in San Marcos had a $10,000 policy.

"That’s not even one night in ICU," Canales said.

About half the states in the country do not have a statewide catastrophic policy for high school athletes. Of those that do, Utah, which has a 10-year policy with a $1 million maximum, is somewhere in the middle. The Michigan High School Athletic Association has a $500,000 policy with a $25,000 deductible. Montana has a lifetime benefit of $2 million.

The NCAA, meanwhile, has a $25 million policy for its athletes.

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In a Gridiron Heroes case involving a paralyzed Chicago high school athlete, Rocky Clark was the beneficiary of a $5 million policy. After a decade of care, Clark had hit his cap and was left to rely on the scaled-back care covered by Medicaid. He died within a year.

"As big as football is in this country," Canales said, "that should never happen."

"Kind of in denial" » Lawrence’s family used to live in a three-bedroom apartment in Heber, but after his injury the city came together and built them a large home on the west side, where passing train horns are one of the few things that break the silence.

His new bedroom looks like most any young man’s.

There’s a big bed and a big TV. There are posters on the wall — one for the computer game Diablo and another for one of his favorite TV shows, "The Walking Dead."

But look up to the ceiling and there’s an overhead lift that snakes around the bedroom. The caretakers use it to put Lawrence in a sling and then lower him into his $2,500 shower chair.

Where a closet might be, there’s an elevator to the basement. There’s also a large, open shower area. The tile guy inlaid a yellow and black Super Dale logo against the gray.

On a recent Saturday morning, Lawrence’s family showered him and dressed him in a red T-shirt, gym shorts and slip-on Vans. It’s a job usually handled by the caretakers who come every week day — just as the insurance letters do.

Giles quickly stashes the envelopes away in a box, often without looking at them.

"I think I’m still kind of in denial," she said.

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