Hospital cancels $51K bill sent to Miami man paralyzed by a hammer attack

Jackson Health System has canceled a surprise $51,000 hospital bill sent to a man who was paralyzed by a hammer-wielding customer in a Little Havana convenience store seven years ago.

The clearing of the debt came weeks after the Miami Herald published a story about the plight of Yue “Alex” Kui Cen, 51, who is relegated to a bed in his living room and can no longer speak or walk.

“We are so happy,” said his wife, Phuong Cen. “We don’t want any problems.”

The family, already struggling to get by financially while caring for Cen, was shocked when county bill collectors in late April sent a letter demanding $51,387.21 for medical care he received at Jackson Memorial Hospital back in 2011 and 2012.

The family’s health insurance had covered the majority of the bill, which ran over $600,000, except the $50,000-plus balance. But Cen’s wife said that for years, she believed Florida’s Bureau of Victims Compensation had taken care of the rest.

There was confusion about what happened. The Florida Attorney General’s Office, which runs the victim compensation bureau, said Phuong failed to turn in certain documents years ago. Jackson said it had sent the family numerous bills over the years, something she denied.

All it took was Cen meeting with Jackson hospital staff to present a document — sent to her back in 2012, and one she said she’d already given to the hospital. The document from the Bureau of Victims Compensation said he was a crime victim and wasn’t on the hook for any insurance co-payments.

“Due to this new information, Jackson recalled the account from the collection agency and adjusted the balance due. Currently, Mr. Cen has no outstanding balance with Jackson Health System,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We are pleased that the hospital has accepted her insurance waiver. “

Hammer Attack
Phuong Ly Cen, 50, sits with her husband, Yue “Alex” Kui Cen, 51, inside their Little Havana home in May 2019. He suffered severe brain damage in a hammer attack in December 2011 in Little Havana in Miami. David Ovalle Miami Herald

An immigrant from China, Cen owned and operated the small convenience store.

On Dec. 18, 2011, an ex-convict named Rodobaldo Sanchez walked into the store, grabbed two jugs of milk, placed them on the counter and then suddenly sprayed Cen’s eyes with Mace. Then, surveillance footage showed, he bashed Cen’s head in with a hammer before stealing a handful of cigarette cartons.

Sanchez was later convicted at trial and is doing a life prison sentence.

The random attack upended the Cen family.

Blows from the hammer drove portions of his skull directly into Cen’s brain. At Jackson Memorial’s Ryder Trauma Center, emergency surgeons had to remove portions of his skull to relieve the swelling of his brain. He had multiple surgeries and was in a medically induced coma. Doctors wound up replacing part of his skull with a plastic prosthesis.

In all, he spent nearly four months in the hospital. The brain damage left him unable to use his legs, or his left arm. He is conscious, but cannot talk or comprehend words. He does, however, cry regularly — as he did recently when a Miami Herald reporter visited and listened to Phuong’s story of frustration.