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For years, Jake and Marqui Balle of Clinton, Utah, had budgeted carefully and avoided splurges so they could afford lifesaving insulin for their diabetic son, Reid, at a cost of $550 a month — their second-highest expense after their mortgage.
Reid, who is 7, was diagnosed when he was 18 months old with Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which his pancreas makes little to no insulin. There is no cure for this kind of diabetes, and Reid needs insulin every hour around the clock, delivered through a small pump attached to his abdomen. So the Balles have braced themselves for the expense.
“It’s a major cost, but it comes first for us because without it, our son would die,” said Jake Balle, 33, who works as a real estate agent. “It’s heart-wrenching to know there are families out there who can’t even afford the insurance deductible.”
Now some of the financial burden for the Balles and several other Utah families will be eased because of a couple who decided to use their extra airline miles to make trips to Mexico to buy low-cost insulin for strangers, saving them thousands of dollars.
In December 2018, Balle had mentioned the high cost of Reid’s insulin pens to Eric Threlkeld, 31, a technical engineer who had hired Balle as his real estate agent when he bought a new home. Threlkeld travels frequently for his job and was helping to build a factory for a bagged salad company in Mexico at the time.
Threlkeld was shocked to learn what the Balles paid each month for the pens — small vials of insulin that can be injected directly without a syringe. (Reid’s dosages are transferred to his insulin pump.)
Knowing that prescription drugs were much cheaper in Mexico, Threlkeld offered to pick up several insulin pens at a pharmacy for Reid during his next trip and bring them back in an insulated lunchbox, provided he could find the same brand Reid used, NovoLog.
Threlkeld found the NovoLog brand with the same packaging and paid about a tenth of the cost.
“He came home with six or seven and paid only $13 each for them,” Balle said. “Here, they would have cost about $110 each, and our son uses five a month. Besides being extremely grateful, we were stunned at how much cheaper it was.”
In January, Threlkeld offered to make another trip to buy insulin for Reid. This time, he took along his wife, Erica, and used his airline miles to pay for their flights on his days off.
“We bought 36 insulin pens for about $16 each, and when I gave them to Jake, he said he wanted to share them with some other families,” Threlkeld said. “That’s when we found out how great the need was out there. Erica and I decided then to help do something about it.”