A newborn baby is home in Indiana after being born prematurely in a Mexican hospital where his relatives said his parents were being extorted for thousands of dollars.
While vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, expectant parents Michaela Smith and Larry Ralph Jr. of Martinsville, Indiana, rushed to Hospiten Cancun when Michaela Smith started to feel contractions.
On the afternoon of July 18, baby Beckham was born just at under 3 pounds via emergency C-section. Michaela Smith was not due until Oct. 7, making her 12 weeks early, her mother Elaine Smith, also from Martinsville, told ABC News today.
The couple planned to "babymoon" in Mexico from July 14 to July 19. Michaela Smith had been 28 weeks pregnant and received clearance from her doctor to travel out of the country, her mother said.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the International Air Travel Association recommend that expecting mothers avoid travel after the 37th week of pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Women who have complicated pregnancies should not travel from 32 weeks to birth.
From the Mexican hospital, Larry Ralph Jr., the baby's father, phoned family back in Indiana to share the news of baby Beckham's birth.
But soon after, he dialed his father, Larry Ralph Sr., alleging that the hospital was demanding more and more money in exchange for the hospital stay.
“They were threatening to put him literally on the streets, a baby in an incubator," Larry Smith Sr. told ABC affiliate WRTV in Indianapolis. "Complete strong-arm tactics."
Michaela Smith and Larry Ralph Jr. were allegedly charged $3,000 upfront before Michaela was cared for, $4,000 for them to see baby Beckham and tens of thousands more for their continued care, according to Michaela Smith's mother, Elaine Smith. The hospital told the couple that it couldn’t go through their health insurance and that if they refused to pay out-of-pocket, they’d no longer treat mother and child and release them, Elaine Smith said.
"She was devastated," Elaine Smith, 55, said of her 26-year-old daughter. "She was crying, she wanted to come home and there were these demands of money. At one point in time, they [the hospital] demanded 30,000 in an hour, or they were going to kick them out to another hospital. It continued. It just escalated. It kept going, and going."
An administrative representative at Hospiten Cancun told ABC News today during a telephone interview that Larry Ralph Jr. offered to pay the hospital a total of $2,000. The hospital would not say how much the family was charged and are denying that they would not treat mom or baby and have them released if they did not pay upfront.
Elaine Smith said her son-in-law, Larry Ralph Jr., paid the hospital $3,000 upfront, plus thousands more, before his credit card companies began freezing transactions due to potential fraudulent activity.
Elaine Smith said the Smith and Ralph families were then sent billing forms from the hospital. They got together and claim they paid more than $30,000 to the hospital.
The administrative representative at Hospiten Cancun refused to comment on whether or not the bill totaled $30,000 or more. The hospital also said the couple did not have to pay their bill before taking their baby.
"The doctors were doing everything to [make] sure the baby would be alive because [he] was born in this condition," the representative said, adding that the hospital did not hold the couple against their will.
"In this moment, the baby was in the NICU and they were waiting," the representative said. "[We] provided the medical records so they could take the baby back to the United States. We didn't care about the money. We gave him all the medical records [for] the certificate of birth. We provided them with everything."
The family also contacted its congressional representative, Trey Hollingsworth. Both Hollingsworth and the State Department worked to obtain both a birth certificate for baby Beckham and a medical jet to get him back home to Indiana, Hollingsworth told ABC News today.
Hollingsworth said that the hospital was also attempting to extort money from the couple in exchange for medical information on the birth of their son, making it difficult at first to have a birth certificate issued for the child in the United States.
"Demands fell once they realized the more and more attention the United States and the representatives were paying to the situation," Hollingsworth said. "We just worked to find different options for baby Beckham to get home. "It certainly is scary, but my first thought was about baby Beckham's health and making sure we got him the care that he needed and got him to Riley [a hospital in Indiana]."
Hollingsworth confirmed that a medical jet flew to Mexico from Pensacola, Florida, on July 20 and picked up Smith and Beckham, who were released from Hospiten Cancun, and brought them to Indiana. Larry Ralph Jr. followed behind by commercial jet.
Beckham and his parents were reunited with their family, and the child was brought to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Hollingsworth said.
Jason Fechner, a consultant for public relations at Riley, told ABC News that due to HIPAA laws, the hospital cannot comment on individual patients.
Both Hollingsworth and Elaine Smith said they believe the Mexican hospital finally released Michaela Smith and baby Beckham after they received increased pressure from the State Department and U.S. government officials.
To her knowledge, Elaine Smith said Hospiten Cancun never threatened to have her daughter and son-in-law arrested for not paying money they were allegedly asking for.
In a Hospiten Cancun pamphlet obtained by Elaine Smith and released to ABC News, a "normal" vaginal birth costs 30,212 pesos, or $1,716.
A C-section is priced at 36,452 pesos, or $2,070. That amount includes, but is not limited to, two nights of hospitalization, anesthesia, neonatal equipment and an incubator.
Elaine Smith said she believes her daughter and grandson did receive good care while patients at Hospiten Cancun. The real issue, she added, was the staff’s allegedly demanding more and more money, and posing threats to her family.
"She did get good care and they did keep my grandson alive and for that, I'm grateful," she said.
Rebecca Ewert, Larry Ralph Jr.'s sister, started a GoFundMe page, where more than $46,000 was raised in just two days.
The money paid for the AirMed jet that safely brought Beckham and his mother home, as well as the neonatal staff that was present on the flight, Elaine Smith said. Any leftover funds will pay for Beckham’s medical care here on out, she added.
"There is still a lot of human kindness out there," Elaine Smith added. "The outpouring has been really favorable for us -- kind, warm thoughts and prayers. The GoFundMe page is just an example. I am a first-time grandma. I am going to get a 'Beckham's Grandma' T-shirt made. I can't wait to hold him, spend time with him and do grandma stuff."
Elaine Smith said she urges people to be cautious before traveling to Mexico.