Tyler Perry Helps American Couple Held 'Hostage' in Mexican Hospital by Paying $14K Medical Bill
Tyler Perry came to the aid of an Atlanta couple who were forced to seek medical treatment while on vacation and then were prevented from leaving when they couldn’t afford to pay their $14,000 medical bill.
A source tells PEOPLE the star, 50, paid the couple’s medical bill and will also cover their travel expenses as soon as they’re cleared to leave.
While traveling on a Carnival Dream cruise ship with fiancée Tori Austin, Stephen Johnson, 31, fell ill and was diagnosed on board with pancreatitis and diabetes, WGCL reported.
At the behest of Carnival, Johnson sought treatment and was hospitalized in Progreso, Mexico, where he spent three days in intensive care, according to Good Morning America.
Once he was on the mend, however, he was charged with a $14,000 bill that the couple was unable to pay, as they do not have health or travelers’ insurance. Although Austin said she asked if they could work out a payment plan once they were back in the U.S., her request was denied, and she and Johnson were barred from leaving the hospital.
Austin also claimed that hospital staffers locked the windows to further prevent them from leaving, and staffers threatened to call the police should the couple make a break for it.
“It’s been a nightmare. We just want to come home,” she told WGCL, as Johnson added, “[It’s] hell. I very much so am a hostage.”
After hearing about their struggles on GMA, Perry reached out and offered to help, according to KTRK-TV.
As of Saturday, the hospital where Johnson is being treated said they had not received the money, according to NBC News, though the hospital noted international transfers typically take several days to come through.
“Today I am thankful for and will always be thankful for Tyler Perry,” Austin wrote on Facebook Sunday. “My mom was also a huge fan of his.”
It remains unclear when the couple will be able to return to the United States, although in a recent Facebook post, Austin said they had been told he could “leave [on] Monday.”
In her Saturday update, Austin said they were unable to leave that day “because Stephen has several ulcers” that needed to heal “before it’s safe for him to travel.”
A U.S. Department of State official confirmed to PEOPLE on Friday that a U.S. citizen was being treated at a Progreso hospital, and that a consular officer visited the citizen in the hospital on Thursday. The official said the department was monitoring the situation closely.
Carnival also previously confirmed to PEOPLE in a statement that a guest on the Carnival Dream had suffered a medical emergency and “was required to seek medical treatment in Progreso.”
“We are not in a position to comment on the personal matters related to his health or the financial arrangements regarding his treatment, but our CareTeam is providing support,” the statement read.
Austin, however, praised the company in a Facebook post, and wrote that their support had been “great” throughout the ordeal, though she did not go into specifics.
Over the weekend, Austin also shared online that she wouldn’t rule out traveling to Mexico again in the future.
“What is going on with Stephen has nothing to do with the entire country, it has to do with this particular hospital,” she wrote. “We were unaware that this particular hospital and administration staff have been known to take American passports and hold them for payment.”
“I love MEXICO and the Culture,” she added. “I’ll be back again but will leave on my own terms. We have no ill feelings for the country or the people, just this hospital.”