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Indian River County firefighter denied workers compensation over heart condition; family raises money to cover cost

'It’s a very real possibility I will not be back on the big red truck,' he says
Posted at 12:00 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 08:32:11-04

VERO BEACH, Fla. — An Indian River County firefighter is just a couple of days out of the hospital, recovering from open-heart surgery.

Jeffrey Jones, a 39-year-old father of two, has been a firefighter for 10 years and is passionate about his job.

Jeffrey Jones with kids.PNG

"To me, I made no sacrifice," Jones said. "I wanted to help others."

But all firefighters know there is a sacrifice they make in accepting the health risks that can come with the job.

"A lot of stress, lack of sleep," Jones said.

That is one reason firefighters in Indian River County undergo a Life Scan every two years, a health screening that makes sure their job is not taking a toll on their health.

Two years ago, Jones said his exam was clean.

In late May, however, he was due for another routine screening.

"When I was on the table and the young lady was over my heart with the ultrasound, I heard her go, 'Hmm' in such a way that I was like, 'What do you mean?'" Jones said.

Ultimately, he was put on medical leave and sent for further testing. He said doctors determined he was essentially in heart failure, diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, "which is a thickening of the heart walls due to stress and high blood pressure due to work," Jones said.

Jones said his doctors attributed cardiomyopathy to his job.

"For the first five months being on medical leave, he was covered 100% for workers compensation," his wife, Gretchen, said.

Jeffrey and Gretchen Jones.PNG

Through further testing over the following months, his doctors discovered a second heart condition — a right coronary artery anomaly, mainly found in children.

He said doctors believed it was a condition he had since he was a child that he did not know about.

"A side effect of that was sudden cardiac death, which needed to be fixed," Jones said.

That second diagnosis, Jones said, was considered pre-existing, which in turn reversed all of his workers compensation benefits despite the first condition being attributed to work by a doctor.

"Two-and-a-half weeks before he was scheduled for surgery, they denied everything," Gretchen Jones said.

firefighter.PNG

Now, the Jones family is facing a mounting financial burden.

The future medical expenses are unknown, and Gretchen said they will have to pay back certain workers compensation expenses.

They also have medical bills for the open-heart surgery and will have to go take leave under the Family Medical and Leave Act to preserve Jones' job.

"There is going to be time that is unpaid and we're in that," Gretchen Jones said.

But Jones' passion for his job is still unaffected.

"It's a very real possibility I will not be back on the big red truck," Jones said.

Firefighter family.PNG

He anticipates taking a job in a less physical role but is still committed to serving Indian River County.

Jeffrey Jones and family.PNG

Jeffrey and Gretchen Jones are hopeful to keep life as normal as possible for their two children.

A fundraiser has been set up to assist them.