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Waiting for stimulus checks is 'life and death' for some
02:32 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Michael Shawki looked at his thigh and injected his final dose of methotrexate into his leg.

“Simple as that,” Shawki, 37, said.

The two-time colon cancer survivor is now out of his prescriptions, and out of a job – meaning he can no longer afford to pay for his life-sustaining medication.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to closures of restaurants and businesses nationwide, Shawki was laid off as the manager of a bakery chain in New York City last month.

Now, Shawki’s survival, like thousands in this country, depends on the arrival of an individual stimulus check under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“People are living check to check already when they’re working,” Shawki told CNN. “What do you think when that income goes away? You think they’re going to be able to survive on a few weeks? No. I can’t make pills just magically appear. I can’t walk through a pharmacy, tell them my situation, and get free meds. That’s not the world we live in.”

Shawki applied for unemployment, but said his request is still pending. Since he applied, he said he’s called the Department of Labor’s unemployment line “75 times a day” but never gets through.

The Internal Revenue Service said it sent out the first wave of stimulus checks to Americans on Saturday. The distributions are part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress in March. Under the economic relief package, individuals are due up to $1,200 and couples will receive up to $2,400 – plus $500 per child.

While waiting for the promised relief he desperately needs, Shawki created a GoFundMe account in hopes of getting help sooner. He turned to social media to beg for financial assistance – where he found he was not alone in his struggle to pay for his monthly medication.

“I see it all online,” said Shawki, who has already begun rationing his medication. “I’m one of many, many people in this situation. It’s literally life or death. People don’t realize that we take these medications on a daily basis.”

Similar pleas for prescription help have popped up across Twitter in the last month, with many people utilizing the social media platform to share their struggles in hopes of receiving donations from good samaritans.

The individual tweets reveal how quickly life-saving prescriptions become unaffordable as millions file jobless claims. The US economy lost 701,000 jobs in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate shot up to 4.4%, from a near 50-year low of 3.5%.

One Twitter user, from Lowell, Massachusetts, wrote that she was rationing her seizure medication, stretching them out until the stimulus check comes in.

“I NEED to live,” she said in the tweet.

Another Twitter user, a single mother from St. Simons, Georgia, wrote she can’t get prescriptions or pay her car payment. She expressed concern over stimulus payments not arriving until May.

“I don’t think people realize how quickly $$$ goes when you’re poor,” she said in her tweet. “I NEED help.”

Brandi Titus, from Ponder, Texas, wrote on Twitter that she “has one shot left” of her insulin.

“I feel helpless and alone,” she wrote. “I don’t have anyone. These are sad times.”

In an interview with CNN, Titus said she had already struggled to make ends meet, even before the virus hit. She cleans houses for income, a meager salary that covers the rent on her small trailer, the electricity bill and the cheapest form of insulin to control her type 1 diabetes.

“As soon as the president started coming up saying that they were going to start shutting things down, I knew that I was gonna lose my job,” Titus told CNN. “The fear started right then.”

Without cash for weeks now, Titus said she counts the days by the dwindling level of insulin in her last vial.

“This is the last bit,” said Titus, holding up the vial. “That’s what saving my life every single day, this right here. And I’m almost out of it.”

When she runs out, Titus said the outcome is not a good one.

“Probably take me about 48 hours, and I will end up in the hospital,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I won’t have a choice, my body will go into diabetic ketoacidosis. I’m very worried that I will end up in a hospital bed, sitting next to someone that has coronavirus. I contract the virus and then it ends up killing me.”

Brandi Titus

But unlike Shawki, Titus can’t hope for a stimulus check.

Titus is thousands of dollars behind on child support, making her ineligible under the CARES Act for the government help. She had a baby at age 17 and gave the child to the baby’s father, who then filed for child support – a bill Titus has never been able to meet.

There are free or low cost options for insulin. Titus has reached out to a number of agencies, including Diabetic Help. She also emailed Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy organization that elevates patient voices to help lower prescription drug prices. The advocacy group responded to Titus after CNN aired her story offering to help reach other patients like her.

For the last two weeks, Titus has rationed her insulin, allowing her blood sugar to spike to four times normal levels. She also established a GoFundMe account, hoping someone on social media will send her a few dollars.

“A hundred dollars might not be that much to you, but it could be my saving grace for tomorrow,” Titus said. “That’s a lot to me right now.”

Since CNN aired the segment on Wednesday night, Titus has received $22,000 in donations. Michael Shawki has received $14,700.

CNN’s Sam Fossum, Kelly Mena, Anneken Tappe and Annalyn Kurtz contributed to this report.