When Mary Lou Retton’s family announced she was gravely ill with a rare form of pneumonia last fall, many people were shocked to learn the former gymnast had no health insurance.
The reason was money, Retton, 55, told TODAY’s Hoda Kotb in an exclusive interview that aired Jan. 8.
She said buying health insurance as a single woman with a history of surgeries was too expensive.
“When COVID hit and after my divorce and all my pre-existing (conditions) — I mean, I’ve had over 30 operations of orthopedic stuff — I couldn’t afford it… That’s the bottom line: I couldn’t afford it,” Retton said.
“But who would even know that this was going to happen to me?”
Retton revealed in 2018 that she had split from her husband of 27 years, according to People.
Many people assumed the retired gymnastics star had endorsement deals and other means to afford health insurance, Kotb pointed out.
But Retton said “life goes on and things happen” — it’s been almost 40 years since she won an Olympic gold medal — and she financially couldn’t do it.
More than 27 million Americans, or about 8% of the population, didn’t have health insurance in 2022, the latest year for which statistics were available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s actually an improvement over previous years.
Almost two-thirds, or 64%, of uninsured adults said they didn’t have health insurance because the cost of coverage was too high, according to KFF.
Of Americans who are insured, 54% get health insurance through a job, 18% are covered by Medicaid, 18% have Medicare and 10% buy it themselves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Retton said she’s “all set now” and has health insurance.
After developing the rare form of pneumonia out of the blue last fall, she spent a month in a Texas hospital, much of it in the intensive care unit. She’d never had a lung issue in her life, Retton said.
The situation was so dire at one point that doctors were considering putting Retton on life support and her four daughters said goodbye to her.
Her daughters first announced her illness to the public via a fundraising site on Oct. 10, revealing she was “fighting for her life,” and appealed for help with finances for the hospital bill.
“If she pulls through, the last thing we want her to have to think about is paying off these bills or doing anything like that,” Retton’s eldest daughter, Shayla Schrepfer, told Hoda Kotb.
Almost $460,000 was raised on the crowd-funding site Spotfund. Retton was home in Boerne, Texas, by Oct. 23.
The five-time Olympic medalist said doctors still don’t know what caused the pneumonia, noting she tested negative for COVID-19, the flu and RSV. She is using a portable oxygen apparatus as her lungs heal.
“I’m not great yet, and I know it’s going to be a really long road. I don’t know how long I’ll indefinitely need the oxygen. But you have no idea how blessed and how grateful I was for this holiday season,” Retton said.
“I’m so grateful to be here.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com