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A Utah dad died while on a business trip to Ecuador. What can you do to prepare for medical emergencies abroad?

Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, goes over healthy habits with a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, goes over healthy habits with a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, vaccinates a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, goes over healthy habits with a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, goes over healthy habits with a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, vaccinates a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - This April 10, 2014, file photo shows a male sage grouse trying to impress a group of hens, at left, near the base of the Rattlesnake Range in southwest Natrona County, Wyo. The U.S. Forest Service is changing sage grouse protection plans in five Western states it says will conserve habitat while allowing ranchers to maintain their livelihoods. The federal agency made the announcement Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, but details of the plans involving Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado aren't being made public until Friday. (Alan Rogers/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File) Alan Rogers, The Casper Star-Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY — The recent report of a Utah dad who died while on a business trip in Ecuador after his family tried to have him flown back to the states for a heart procedure prompts questions of how to prepare for similar medical emergencies abroad.

"I think it's easy to think nothing's going to happen to me. But unfortunately, things do happen. I mean, we hear all the time about people breaking their ankles, or falling down and breaking their wrists. All kinds of things," said Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department International Travel Clinic.

Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, vaccinates a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Holly Birich, manager of the Salt Lake County Health Department's International Travel Clinic in Salt Lake City, vaccinates a patient on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, prior to his trip overseas.

"All those things can happen here, too, but when you're in a country that doesn't have great medical care, it makes a big difference."

She says while her office performs vaccinations and prescribes preventive medications for those visiting different countries, it also helps people feel safe and prepared for their trips.

First, Birich recommends always seeing a medical provider, like those at a travel clinic, before leaving the country. If someone has major health concerns, they should see their primary care provider, Birich said.

"We also want them to, if we know that they have certain issues or maybe they're not in the best physical shape, to be aware of their itinerary and not overexert themselves while they're on their vacation, because heart attacks are actually fairly common in travelers because they will often live a fairly sedentary lifestyle here," she said.

"But then they'll book these trips where it's just go, go, go, go, go — and their body just isn't physically ready for that. So we recommend that they make sure they're not scheduling themselves too much according to their current physical health."

According to the nurse, something many people don't realize is that many other countries have different emergency phone numbers. Before going to a different country, find out what its version of 911 is.

Nurses at the travel clinic stay updated on which countries have good medical care, Birich said. If a country someone plans to visit doesn't have adequate care, the nurses can tell them where to find the "closest best medical care" to that country.

Earlier this month, after James Campbell, of Wellington in Carbon County, suffered an aortic dissection while on a business trip in South and Central America, his family was working to raise money to have him evacuated to Utah for a potentially life-saving procedure. That flight was expected to cost $46,000 up front, money the family was in the process of raising when he passed away in Ecuador.

Birich says travelers should have credit card amounts available to cover potential hospital stays, or special, short-term insurance that covers health care during international travel.

"A lot of times, in these other countries, you have to pay cash for your services before they'll ever even look at you," Birich explained.

Travel health insurance is like any other health insurance, but there are companies that specialize in it, Birich said. Policies depend on a person's health and what they plan to do on their trip.

"But usually it's not too expensive. So it's not like the trip cancellation insurance … it's usually less expensive than that. And sometimes you can actually buy them in combination at the same time," Birich explained.

She said costs range from between $60 to $250. Many travelers' medical insurance companies often help clients find medical care, and sometimes they'll even provide interpretation services, according to Birich.

"It isn't typically a huge expense, it's just, a lot of times when people are traveling, they're like, 'Oh, we got this cheap airfare, we got this great deal on this and that, and then they're like, 'Oh, now we have to pay for shots and now we have to pay for medication, and insurance now too. I mean, it all kind of adds up."

Some plans also include medical evacuations, or flights back to the U.S. Evacuation insurance often takes care of flying bodies back to the country, she said.

"Anytime we see somebody, we recommend that they have medical and evacuation insurance, regardless of the length or whether it's work or pleasure."

In cases of emergencies, travelers should always pack medications in their carry-on luggage, along with a list of those medications, allergies, medical history, blood type, and information about any recent surgeries or health-related incidents, the nurse said. They should also pack a first-aid kid.

Something many travelers aren't aware of, Birich said, is that they can and should register their trip with the State Department so if there is an emergency, the department can inform family members. If there's a political problem in the country, the U.S. Department of State can also tell family members where travelers are, Birich said.

Travelers can register their trips online with the State Department on its website.

"It's helpful. Hopefully most people don't need it, but if you do, it can be really beneficial," Birich said.

Of Utahns who die while traveling, "we do hear about those stories more than you probably hear about in the news," according to the nurse.

"More often, we hear about people who are in these other countries and need medical care right away. And they can't get out of the country, so they get care there, but it's almost always subpar care. And so we've heard about lots of complications that have happened trying to get care in another country, then having to try to come back home and get it fixed."

The U.S. Department of State also has a traveler's safety checklist and other preparedness suggestions on its website.

Consultations at the Salt Lake County International Travel Clinic cost $60 and are by appointment only. For more information, visit the county's website.