PHOENIX (The Arizona Republic) -- A family that removed an 11-year-old girl from a hospital here during cancer treatment blames the hospital for problems that led to the amputation of the girl's arm and for pressuring the family over her mounting bills, according to an interview with the girl's father broadcast Wednesday on the "Today" show.
Police have been searching for the girl since last week. That's when the girl's mother unhooked a tube that fed medicine to her heart and walked her out of Phoenix Children's Hospital. Doctors fear that the life of the girl, who is being treated for leukemia, may be in danger.
On Saturday, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers located the girl's father, Luis Bracamontes, at the Arizona-Mexico border as he was trying to enter the United States, Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos said. They interviewed Bracamontes but said he did not reveal useful information or the girl's whereabouts.
But in an interview with NBC, Bracamontes blamed the hospital for his wife's decision to remove their daughter, Emily, against her doctors' wishes.
He said the medical bills had reached $1.37 million and their insurance limit was $2 million a year. He said hospital social workers told them they they needed to apply for coverage through Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program. Without such coverage, Bracamontes said the hospital told the family, they would have to begin paying out of pocket.
"They kept telling us, 'Are you going to pay out of your pocket?' " he said.
It's unclear why he would need to seek Medicaid coverage for his daughter's treatment when he said he still had coverage on his own insurance plan. Asked about the discrepancy, Bracamontes said he did not understand why the family was encouraged to sign up for the state program.
Also unknown is whether he would have qualified for Arizona's Medicaid program. He said he lives in California and his wife lives in Mexico.
He said the girl is a citizen in the United States and Mexico.
Although he would not disclose his daughter's exact whereabouts, he said she is doing fine in Mexico and is under the care of another doctor.
Phoenix Children's Hospital officials said they remain concerned about the girl's safety and health and are cooperating with law enforcement.
Hospitals are not allowed to discuss a patient's medical or financial status unless the patient consents to such disclosures. In a statement, a hospital spokesperson said the hospital does not make medical and care decisions based on a person's ability to pay.
Emily's disappearance has caught the attention of national media as authorities continue to look for the girl.
A surveillance tape shows Emily's 35-year-old mother, Norma, walking the girl out of the hospital at 10:30 p.m. Nov. 28.
During treatment, a chest catheter had been placed into the girl's heart. The mother removed the IV from the catheter and changed the child's clothing before they left, police said.
Emily was scheduled to be released from the hospital Nov. 29, according to Martos of the Phoenix police.
Bracamontes said the hospital never gave the family a firm date for Emily's release.
"She had no clue," he said. "There is no reason for her to walk out with her if she was going to be released the very next morning."
Bracamontes said Emily's cancer is in remission. He said the doctor now treating her told him that the catheter can remain in her chest for one year without risk of complications.
"We feel that we have been discriminated and pushed to the limit in so many ways," he said.
At the hospital, the girl developed an infection shortly after she received an injection in her arm, Bracamontes said. Doctors performed several surgeries to fight the infection and ultimately amputated her arm.
"She didn't come to the hospital with any illness in her arm. This happened in the hospital," he said. "Who is going to come forward and say 'I'm responsible for it?' "
The black fungus or bacteria started out as a little bruise that got larger, he said.
Medical personnel did not think anything was wrong until the fast-growing infection spread and the girl could not move her arm, Bracamontes said.
"It's something that I don't think any family should go through," Bracamontes said. "It was hard to see your daughter losing an arm. You know she is just not the same. It is just frustrating and you can't do anything about it."
The family has four other children and has no plans to return Emily here, he said.
"The doctor said she is going to be fine," he said.
(Contributing: Megan Thompson, The Arizona Republic)