I’ll say it here, I’ll say it to anyone who will listen: Kimberly Lopez is the most inspirational human being I know.
If that name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for it: We’ve featured Kim and her husband, Ray, on the Jiu-Jitsu Times before. A few months ago, Ray, a purple belt and owner of Wulfpack MMA and Tactical Self-Defense, rolled for 24 hours straight in support of his wife, who has been battling a debilitating gastrointestinal illness called chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (CIPO). The disease has left Kim — a singer, actor, and BJJ blue belt — fighting for her life, maintaining an absurdly strict diet, and struggling to pay thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Thus far, Kim’s diagnosis, treatment, and survival has been made possible by insurance and the donations of friends and strangers. But a few weeks ago, Kim was thrown yet another curveball when her insurance stopped paying for her medication. She pays her premiums on time every month, plus co-pays, plus whatever medication and treatment costs that her insurance denies (which happens a lot due to how rare her condition is). Even before her insurance ripped the rug out from under her, this came out to thousands of dollars per month. Now, she’s getting “partial” bills for over $50,000 for the medical intervention that diagnosed her disease months ago and now enables her to at least get treatment for an illness she’ll likely have to deal with for the rest of her life.
It’s worth noting that through all of this, Kim has somehow retained her relentlessly optimistic fighting spirit. Whenever she speaks about her struggles, she also mentions what she’s grateful for and how other people are going through “the same or worse.” Technically, she may be correct, but no sane person would fault her for slowing down and wallowing in self-pity. But that’s not how Kim does things.
Instead, she continues to be her sassy, eloquent, overwhelmingly positive self while continuing to pursue her hobbies and pass her love of jiu-jitsu and yoga on to others. She and Ray still give donation-funded jiu-jitsu and self-defense seminars to members of their New Orleans community, and they’re hoping to start a kids’ program in the Treme neighborhood.
Still, the ordeal she’s being put through is frustrating on its best days and devastating on its worst days. Ray is working three jobs, and even those combined with Kim’s SSDI checks and all the donations they’ve received “can’t even touch” the tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bills that are piling up on them. “All the money people already donated is gone. It went to HBOT, surgery, anesthesia during the surgeries, medications, travel expenses to get me to Cleveland Clinic and back, to rent while Ray had to live in Cleveland with me for the 4.5 months I was there, to rent HERE, to meds, to the medical equipment, to the phone and utilities, to…yeah… the money is all gone, and I’m getting a new $2,000-50,000 bill every week or month,” Kim says.
Ray, for his part, doesn’t know what else they can do. “I feel so helpless. The fact that Kim didn’t do anything wrong, that she didn’t mismanage anything — through no fault of her own, her organs started failing. And every letter, every piece of paper, whether from the insurance company or the hospital, feels like a punishment. Kim has filled out and mailed the financial aid paperwork multiple times with no response. It’s like they are trying to wear you down and get you to give up and desperately start giving in to the relentless onslaught of bills and notices.”
It should come as no surprise that the financial sacrifices that these two have made are just part of the things they’ve had to give up in order for Kim to stay healthy and alive. The emotional burden alone is more than any person should have to bear. “I already had collections people threaten to come and take my car… which I don’t have anymore because we couldn’t afford to keep it,” says Kim. “There is absolutely nothing unique about my story. This is happening to people all day, every single day. I worked from age 15 through college, all the way until 32 when the organ failure started. I’ve never missed a single health insurance premium payment in my life, ever. We sold my parents’ wedding rings to make sure we made those premium payments on time. And now they won’t pay for my care, maintaining, or meds. But I still had to write them a $768 check that they cashed September 1st. On September 3rd, after cashing my premium check, they cut off my medication.”
Despite all this, Kim and Ray have asked for very little help; they didn’t ask for this article to be written, and whether through Ray’s inspiring marathon roll or the classes they teach, even the donations they’ve received have mostly been the product of their hard work rather than a plea for handouts. They’ve given a lot to the BJJ community even in their own time of need, and since they won’t beg, I will: please, please consider donating whatever you can to help them. GoFundMe takes a substantial amount of money out of each donation, so Kim and Ray are asking that any donations that are made go directly to Kim’s PayPal, the email for which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nobody deserves to go through this, but given that Kim and Ray have given so much to the jiu-jitsu community, I hope we can give something back to them as well. It’s going to be hard to make a dent in all those bills, but every dollar donated is a dollar that they won’t have to worry about. They aren’t tapping out even when the odds are stacked high against them, and since they’re not going to stop fighting, neither should we.