Joe Burich recently celebrated his 85th birthday. The retired machinist of 45 years has been married to his wife, Carol, for 64 years. They are self-proclaimed “doers”. In 1962, they built from the ground up the house they still live in, in Aberdeen. They raised two daughters. They have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In 2012, Joe was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia — a rare and slowly progressing and uncommon type of blood-cell cancer that begins in the bone marrow.
“There are two types, the one with really bad news and the one that the pharmaceutical companies have found a drug that help keeps it dormmate. The good news was I had the second one.”
The initial shocking news was that the drug he would need to take every month cost $8,000 a dose.
Joe was referred to the Providence Medication Assistance Program (MAP).
More than 1,000 patients in Southwest Washington benefit from free, reduced-cost drugs
Two caregivers at the Providence Regional Cancer System do not prescribe medications, they do not administer drugs, but to many patients, they are as an important part of the care team than any doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Jon Hylton and Rick Carns are the managers of the Providence Medication Assistance Program. They spend their days freeing patients — mainly those battling cancer and needing incredibly expensive medications and co-pays — from the worry of the high cost of prescription drugs.
“It’s really one of the best jobs in the world,” said Hylton, who came into the role in 2009 from the banking industry. “We are regularly called angels by the patients we work with. When we contact a patient and tell them they are approved for a drug replacement cost or co-pay assistance, we often hear tears of joy.
“It’s a joy to tell patients that their job is to focus on getting better, and our job is figuring out how to help them pay for it.”
In 2021 alone, the pair worked with more than 1,000 patients, providing free drugs and co-pay assistance totaling more than $3.5 million.
“Without this program, I don’t know how our patients would be able to get these medications, as the costs are staggering,” said Carns, who has been serving patients since 2010. “I feel really blessed to be a part of this program. Not only do I get to meet a lot of great people but being able to take some stress off their plate and see the relief on their faces is just awesome.”
10 years and nearly $1 million later, Aberdeen couple lives a glass half full life
“I wouldn’t be here without this program,” Joe admitted. “Rick is a godsend for a person like me.”
Joe is quick to admit he’s not a “computer person.” Rick walked Joe through the initial application for the drug back in 2012 and has been helping him annually with the grant application. Joe has received the lifesaving $8,000-a-month drug every month for nearly a decade.
“When you add that up, it’s a pretty staggering number,” Joe said. “I can’t say enough how much I appreciate Rick and this program. It’s kept me alive.”
These days Joe and Carol spend their days in their greenhouse — she’s a master gardener — or giving advice to other car nuts — Joe’s completely built a 1955 Cadillac Coupe Deville and his hotrod, a 1940 Ford Deluxe convertible.
“We just like being home and getting up every day with something to do,” Joe said. “That’s who we are. We have some things to deal with, but we still feel blessed. With us, the glass is always half full.”