A California man who suffered a severe neck injury in Guatemala says the hospital won’t release him until he pays his $20,000 bill in full

Alex Austin

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Alex Austin
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GoFundMe

  • Alex Austin, 28, suffered a severe neck injury after diving into shallow water while on vacation in Guatemala on January 3.
  • Austin, a teacher from Modesto, California, broke two vertebrae and pinched his spine in the accident.
  • He underwent surgery and is now recovering at Centro Medico in Guatemala City.
  • But his family and friends say the hospital won’t let him leave until he’s paid his more than $20,000 hospital bill in full.

Family and friends of a Californian man who suffered a severe neck injury in Guatemala are desperately seeking help to get him home after a hospital in the country said he must pay his $20,000 bill in full before leaving.

Alex Austin, a 28-year-old teacher from Modesto, California, broke two vertebrae and pinched his spine when he dove into shallow ocean water in Guatemala on January 3, his friend, Dillon Nicholson, told the Modesto Bee.

Austin, who was on vacation in the country at the time, went through surgery and is recovering with physical therapy. But his medical bills have soared to more than $20,000.

His sister, Roxanne Austin, said the hospital, Centro Medico in Guatemala City, won’t release him until the entire medical bill is paid in full.

“Since the insurance can’t really do a lot right now, we are paying everything out of pocket,” Roxanne told FOX 40.

In just a few days, a GoFundMe that Nicholson set up has raised more than $22,000 of its $25,000 goal.

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Nicholson has been posting updates about Austin’s health on his Facebook page.

His most recent posts show Austin slowly walking with assistance and drinking a glass of water on his own.

As of Tuesday, Austin was moved out of the intensive care unit and is in another hospital room where he’s paying $80 a day for a nurse to be in his room at all hours, Nicholson said in a Facebook post.

“We hopefully have 3 more days in the hospital which means we have 3 days to square up on the bill,” Nicholson wrote on Facebook. “Alex’s mom and I have sorted out the GoFundMe withdrawals, so the account now shows we’re raising money on her behalf as she will be paying the hospital from a new account she’s set up to handle all of your donations.”

INSIDER has contacted Nicholson for an update on Austin’s condition.

Diving in shallow water is the fourth leading cause of spinal cord injury among men, and the fifth leading cause among women, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.