BELMAR, N.J. - A regular at the Jersey Shore charged into the surf to help rescue a drowning swimmer, and for all his trouble he got stuck with a big medical bill.
Kristian Falkenstein travels more than an hour from Newtown, Bucks County, to play in Belmar, and that's what he was doing September 23, when the waves were high as Hurricane Maria churned offshore and sparked dangerous rip currents.
Dozens of rescues were made that weekend, and he and his friends were playing volleyball when one of the incidents began.
"He was bobbing up and down in the water, doing the distress signal," he said. "I took off my stuff, took off my shirt, and I was like, 'I'm going to save that guy.'"
After an exhaustingly long time fighting the current while holding the victim, a Belmar police officer and a few other people jumped in to help. Eventually, the Coast Guard pulled them all out, and ambulances took the victims to the hospital. Paramedics decided Falkenstein needed to go, too.
"They said that I could get dry drowning," he said. "Die in my sleep, or potentially get pneumonia or an infection."
Amid such dire warnings, Falkenstein decided to get checked out. Luckily, everything was fine.
Until, that is, the next wave hit in the form of medical bills.
The hospital visit alone cost more than $2,500, and that doesn't include bills from the physician, radiologist and for the ambulance ride.
Falkenstein does have health insurance, but also separate deductibles for medical coverage and the ER. Even after that, he has to pay a percentage of the remaining cost.
Even with the bills, he said he'd do the same thing if put in the same position.
"It's a split [second] decision to get yourself in that water and do what you gotta do," he said.
Falkenstein did appeal to the city of Belmar to help him out in covering what insurance won't, which could be around $5,000.
"They said technically they were not liable for it and at this stage weren't going to help us out," he said.
He is stuck with the bills, but he remains happy he helped get someone back home to their loved ones.
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