So Frech took to Twitter to vent her frustration. With the hashtag #ellaneedswheels, she lashed out at her insurance company and linked to her blog, which chronicled their journey through Ella's diagnosis and the hassle involved with getting her chair. Mistakenly, her hashtag was re-tweeted by Chevrolet (presumably, the company thought the “wheels” Ella needed referred to a new car.) Chevrolet undid its mistake in a matter of minutes, but the hashtag had already taken off. It quickly went viral.
“People started re-tweeting it, commenting on Facebook,” Frech said. Within hours, according to Frech, her blog had 11,000 page views. Two hours after she sent out her first #ellaneedswheels tweet, she received a private message on Twitter from her insurance company's Twitter account, asking her to get in touch. Frech dialed the number and was directed to a woman named Jackie in the Escalation Department.
“I joked with her and said, ‘Do you deal with social media nightmares?’” According to Frech, Jackie’s answer was: “Exactly.”
Jackie, Frech said, told her she was authorized to approve anything Frech needed. So Frech launched into Ella's story: the strange diagnosis, her sudden paralysis, her discomfort with her secondhand chair, and her need for something stable, athletic, dependable. Frech wanted to get a sporty wheelchair for Ella, the Box chair, she told Jackie, but would settle for a Tilite, whatever the company would approve.
The next morning, Frech flew out to California for business. Mid-flight, the #ellaneedswheels hashtag was re-tweeted by three Fox News anchors and the conservative pundit Michelle Malkin. When Frech's plane landed and she checked her voicemail, Jackie's voice was on the other end.
“She told us they were going to review the case immediately and have an answer for us by the end of the day,” Frech said. Jackie also asked if Frech would have her medical billing company send over the authorization codes for the Box chair they requested.
When Frech told Mahoney, the medical billing advocate, to send over the authorization codes, Mahoney was stunned.
“She told me that insurance companies never approve the Box chair. And I said, ‘I think that’s about to change.’”
* * *
Frech got the phone call just two days after her Twitter campaign began. The insurance company was going to pay for everything, Jackie said. Ella would get her Box chair.
“I celebrated for like 20 minutes,” Frech said. “And then I just felt so angry on behalf of the other kids.” Through Ella's adaptive sports classes, the Frech family sees the same wheelchair problems crop up, again and again. “I know kids with spina bifida where it takes eight or nine months to get these chairs. We hear that kind of thing all the time.”
In May 2015, Ella received her wheelchair, hand-delivered to her door by her favorite adaptive sports athlete. Since then, Frech has used her newfound Internet fame to share updates on Ella’s condition and how the family has been adjusting to paraplegia. Frech has also decided to continue writing about insurance problems on her personal blog—this time, about other people's.
“I’m willing to loan my soapbox to anyone who needs it,” she said. “If they're having trouble with their insurance company, they can come and stand on my mountain and yell.”