Federal employee says shutdown threatening her health

This Jan. 11, 2019 self-portrait provided by Jasmine Tool shows herself at her home in Lakeview, Ore. Tool, an ailing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker in Oregon, says she can’t learn why her federally paid insurance lapsed months ago or get it reinstated because of the partial government shutdown. Tool is now scrambling to find a way to pay for nutrients that keep her alive. (Jasmine Tool via AP)

A small population of furloughed federal workers are concerned the government shutdown may affect their long-term health.

This week, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden shared the desperate story of Jasmine Tool, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee who lives in southern Oregon. Tool, 30, is a single mother of two boys. His speech was posted online.

Wyden learned of Tool through a relative who told his staff that her insurance was disabled.

KATU spoke to Tool by phone Friday night.

"I went to an emergency room for extreme pain," Tool said. "During the visit, [doctors] found a new growth that needed to be removed. I went to schedule the appointment to get it removed, and I learned that my insurance claim was denied."

Tool says she tried calling the agency's human resources department, but no one answered.

"Because the government was shut down, I just got an automated answering machine," she said. "I sort of just broke down."

Tool suffers from an inoperable brain tumor and was diagnosed last year with gastroparesis, a rare digestive disease that prevents her from eating or drinking. She receives daily nutrients and liquid through an abdominal feeding tube.

"I'm not able to orally and take any food or liquids," she told KATU by phone Friday. "It's like having a paralyzed stomach."

Wyden called on the president to end the shutdown.

"How can a country as rich and good and strong as the United States of America let Jasmine Tool suffer this way?" he said standing on the Senate floor.

Tool's rural community rallied around her, socially fundraising money for her medical bills and for financial support for her two young boys. Locals donated additional bagged liquid nutrients she needs to survive.

"It’s frightening because the consequences are severe," she said.

On Friday morning, she learned her insurance will be reinstated next week, but the future is uncertain. She's not taking anything for granted.

"I can only imagine how many people out there are experiencing something similar to me," Tool said. "Where literally, it is a matter of life or death for us. To have your own citizens put in this situation, it’s just devastating."

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