Jean Eberly: the gift of extra time with her grandkids

Before she found the PAN Foundation, Connie Bartoo’s mom was facing two tough choices: stop taking her medication or come up with tens of thousands of dollars to afford them. 

“Either my mother would have died younger, or my dad probably would have mortgaged the home,” Connie said. “They were married for 61 years and dated for five prior to that. They were high school sweethearts—they were the real deal. My dad would have done anything to have more time.” 

Jean Eberly—Connie’s late mother—was diagnosed with polycythemia vera in 1989, and at the time much was unknown about the illness, which today is classified as a blood cancer. They knew several others who died within a few years of diagnosis. Connie reacted well to the medication her doctor prescribed, but it came with a high out-of-pocket cost.  

For a long time, her husband’s employer-sponsored coverage helped to pay for most of it. After retirement though, when both relied solely on Medicare, their out-of-pocket responsibility dramatically increased. Jean and her husband were in their 70s and their fixed income was no longer enough. 

Even with all the help from Medicare, it would have cost my parents $25,000 to $30,000 per year. 

Connie Bartoo

Medicare beneficiaries are the only insured group in the U.S. who do not have an annual limit on what they pay out-of-pocket for prescriptions. 

Then Jean’s hematologist told her about the PAN Foundation. Through that financial assistance, Jean was able to afford her medication for five more years before she died. Connie said those five years were an incredible gift for the entire family, especially her two young daughters—Jean’s only two grandchildren. Connie said watching their relationships develop over that period was priceless. 

“The one thing I wanted more than anything was for my children to remember her,” she said. “The fact that [my daughters] will have memories to hang on to, that’s an investment in them that nobody else could have made.”  

Because the entire family lived close to each other in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in those additional years, Connie’s parents babysat often. They attended every school concert, soccer game, and any activity the girls participated in. They even enjoyed a family trip of a lifetime to Yellowstone National Park. During their visit, the family saw bears, elk, famed geyser Old Faithful, and gave Jean one last trip to her “favorite place in the world.” She and Connie’s father had visited the park four times over the years, and they loved coming back every time. 

“My daughters are their world,” Connie said. “It was nice for [my parents] to introduce them to [their favorite place]. They all got to have that memory. They’re never going to lose that.”  

She said her mother’s last five years were also a blessing to their friends, neighbors, and church community around Grand Rapids. Though her parents never traveled the world, they stayed busy and went out of their way to help others.  

“My dad got cards and letters for weeks after she died, from people who he had never even met,” Connie said. 

She was surprised, but encouraged to learn that many of the nearly 70 disease funds offered by PAN specifically help Medicare beneficiaries, the majority of whom are older adults. She explained that far too often, older adults are not prioritized in today’s world. After her positive experience with PAN, she has shared the organization with friends and family members and says that she knows every donation has an impact. Her story is proof.   

She said her family was spared of the “heart wrenching decisions” they would have had to make to pay for the medications themselves, and the deep debt her father, now 84 and alone for the first time in his life, would have been left with. Knowing that the medications would be paid for each month allowed the entire family to focus on enjoying their bonus years, rather than worry about the next bill.  

“First we are grateful to the Lord, but second, I am very grateful to PAN,” Connie said.