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British Backpacker Stranded in Chiang Mai After Insurer Refuses to Pay Medical Bill

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CHIANG MAI – A young backpacker who broke her neck in an accident is stuck in a hospital in Thailand unless she raises £60,000 to fly back to the UK.

Sophie Wilson had always dreamed of travelling the world – but was injured just a week into her trip after she dove into a swimming pool and misjudged its depth.

The 24-year-old was rescued from drowning on 1 December by a fellow traveller who pulled her from the water. She was rushed to hospital, unable to move or feel her legs.

Her head wound was stitched up at a local hospital and she then had to endure a three-hour trip to a main hospital “in agony” without any pain relief, she claimed. Sophie arrived there drifting in and out of consciousness and her family say it was “touch and go’” whether she would survive.

To her the relief of her parents John and Jane – who flew out there immediately – she pulled through but they were warned that their daughter may never walk again.

The former coffee shop manager has since had two successful surgeries and made some progress – she is now able to move one arm and is breathing on her own – but she still cannot use her legs.

Sophie’s medical bills have so far come to ฿1,556,000 (£37,600) – and on top of this cost of flying her home with medical support will come to around £60,000.

Her family have launched a GoFundMe appeal in a desperate bid to raise the amount and get her back home.

She had taken out travel insurance with Insure and Go in the UK but she said the firm has refused to pay out because they deemed her injuries were a result of “a reckless act”.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Thailand, Sophie told iNews: “It is heartbreaking as I previously led a very active life style and the doubt of whether I will be able to walk again is hard to take.

“But I believe that being negative will only make things harder. I’m lucky to still be here.”

Sophie, from Shepshed, Leicestershire, had planned to travel around Asia for six months. She was in Pai in northern Thailand when she dove into the pool.

“Initially I was in shock, I never had any reason to believe the pool to have been so shallow as people were jumping and diving in before me. I never lost consciousness. I couldn’t feel my body, just excruciating pain in my neck. I remember saying that I couldn’t feel my legs.”

From the local hospital, she was sent to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, a private facility 150 miles away.

“Doctors knew there was more severe damage so sent me in an ambulance to a bigger hospital in Chiang Mai. They refused to give me any painkillers or water. Every time my body was moved from the movement of the ambulance I was sick due to the sheer pain.

“Every time I was sick my friend Laine was trying to wipe it from my mouth to prevent me from choking. I was deteriorating very quickly. Laine was tying to keep me awake.”

When she arrived in Chang Mai, her blood pressure was drastically low and she was delirious. An MRI scan revealed she had two breaks in her neck, which had left the spinal chord compressed.

But the hospital would not perform surgery until Sophie’s family had guaranteed payment – something which the UK government warns is commonplace in many health facilities in Thailand.

From left to right: Sophie, father John, mother Jane, sister Georgie and Georgies fiancé Jack (Photo: Sophie Wilson)

The Wilsons were able to arrange the guarantee and Sophie had two operations that took a total of 10 hours, which are said to have maximized her chances of recovery.

“I had no idea I was in a private hospital until around five days into being here,” said Sophie, who explained it’s hard to understand her doctors because of the language barrier. “Insure and Go sent an investigator to my hospital bed and then told me they wouldn’t pay because my diving was a reckless act.

“They are still unsure of whether I will be able to walk again, or at least make a full recovery, but I am trying to remain positive. The pain is still quite intense, but nothing in comparison to the initial break.”

Sophie’s sister Georgina, a 25-year-old PE teacher who set up the fundraising page, told iNews that her sister was “the bravest” person she knows.

“She’s is so happy and bubbly and still smiling despite what’s happened to her,” she said. “She called the family and told us to stop moping and get on with our lives.”

The UK government warns travellers that there are “excellent” private hospitals in Thailand but they can be expensive. It says public hospitals and clinics in Thailand are not always up to UK standards, particularly outside Bangkok and in the coastal islands.

It added: “Many hospitals require guarantee of payment before they will start treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.”

InsureandGo is a British travel insurance company that promotes award-winning travel insurance packages.

To donate to the fund to help Sophie, visit here.