Medical emergency upends local woman’s Mexican vacation
Recovering tourist tells of harrowing experience
When local barista Jessica Drebing ventured south of the border to Mexico for a vacation with her boyfriend, she hoped to get some sun and take the first step toward fulfilling a goal to visit the many wonders of the world, such as Chichen Itza. After working long hours at multiple jobs, the first few days on the coast of the Yucatan peninsula were more than magical.
“I had been talking about this for a long time. I was really working hard for it. We were having so much fun,” Drebing said. “We were going to work our way down the coastline from Cancun to Tulum. I snorkeled for the first time ever, which was absolutely amazing. It’s a bummer though because we were going to visit some coral reefs eventually, but because of the accident I didn’t get to do that.”
It was May 1, a couple days into the trip, that Drebing’s idyllic vacation took a tragic turn. While the pair were staying in a yurt at a glamping spot complete with a nearby cenote, they found some electric bicycles for rent and decided it would be fun to take them for a cruise.
“We both had ridden dirt bike for a long time, so we thought we’d grab one of those and tour the town a little. We went out and tried a bunch of appetizers and rode around,” Drebing said. “I had the bike wide open; we were going almost 40. But I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and I didn’t see the speed bump in the road.”
The resulting crash sent Drebing flying, causing severe injury to her face and head, and road rash across her body. Drebing was briefly unconscious after the crash and awoke saying it felt like her head was on fire. Her boyfriend got her back to the resort but quickly called for an ambulance to administer emergency medical care and take her to a hospital.
As Drebing drifted in and out of consciousness, her situation was complicated further by the reality she was a tourist facing a catastrophic brain injury in a medically induced coma in another country. Her regular insurance was no good in the Mexican health care system, leaving her in a sort of limbo while her boyfriend, Grant, and her family scrambled to get money together to pay for her initial treatment.
“I almost died in the ambulance. They weren’t even going to treat me until Grant paid them $10,000. He spent $10,000 of his own money just to get me seen to save my life. If he hadn’t done that I’d be dead today,” Drebing said.
Drebing came out of the coma and was sedated and stabilized enough to be transferred to another hospital. The situation grew even more complicated when Drebing was transferred a further four times, causing concern and confusion back home when they couldn’t verify where she was. Eventually, her family was able to work with the U.S. Embassy to coordinate a life flight to her hometown of Bemidji, Minnesota, but it came at a steep cost.
“We spent $33,000 on the life flight home. I had to take a private jet home because I had to fly low pressure. With brain bleeds I couldn’t fly commercially,” Drebing said.
International health insurance and travelers’ insurance were not things that Drebing was familiar with before her experience but feels that her story is a harsh illustration for others of the liability taken by traveling without them. Such coverage is sometimes bundled with some travel packages but is often misunderstood as only insuring the cost of a ticket or reservation in the event of a cancellation. While the cost can vary depending on the cost of the trip and the destination, such insurance would provide some coverage for emergency medical treatment while traveling.
“Now I know I’ll never go without it. I’m even pulling a life insurance policy out on myself in case something like this ever happens again,” Drebing said.
Now that she is back in the states, Drebing is living with a friend in Bemidji and says she is taking things one day at a time. While she recovers and waits to be seen by neurosurgeons in Fargo for further treatment for the brain bleeds, Drebing has been finding satisfaction in completing household chores such as doing the dishes and washing down her nightly medications with smores. She reports no cognitive issues because of her injuries, but building back the 15 pounds of muscle mass will take some effort.
Despite it all, Drebing says she can’t wait to go back and pick up right where she left off before she took that ride on that speed bump.
“I’m gonna go back. Some people are going to call me crazy for that. But the place we were glamping at offered us a whole free week there, so we’ll probably take them up on that,” Drebing said. “This was all by the grace of God. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of prayers come in, and I’m just so grateful for everybody’s support. People came out of the woodwork, and it means a lot.”
Drebing says that after pausing donations on the GoFundMe campaign, it will be reopened to help her defray the costs of her medical care and the life flight. The fundraiser can be found at gofundme.com as “Help Jessica get back to the United States.”