813.229.1000 • M erlin L aw G roup.com
The Adjuster’s Advocate
Advocacy Is Everything for Rene Sigman
A Voice for Those Who Don’t Have One
I first met Chip Merlin in 2009. I had been practicing first-party insurance law since 2002 in Texas and worked with another law firm that specializes in this area. We met following Hurricane Ike at a conference and kept in contact over the years. Chip would often blog about things I or my former firm had done. In 2017, I reconnected with Chip and we decided to work together. He asked me if I wanted to run his Texas office and I said yes. In the transition, I brought my team over from my former law firm. Today, several of those people have been on my team for over a decade and some as long as 17 years. We operate like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows their roles like the back of their hands. My official title is the regional litigation manager. I oversee MLG’s Texas operations and head up our Houston office where I have a team of attorneys and staff. I balance running our Texas office with serving as an attorney, and I’m also an advocate in the health care space. I keep busy — very busy — and it’s a trait I’ve carried with me since childhood. I was raised by a single mom who emigrated from Iran to the United States in the 1970s. She was a self- made person who worked hard to build a life for my sister and me. She was also a swimmer. Our mom encouraged us to pick up a sport so we had something more to do before and after school. Throughout my youth, I swam. It kept me out of trouble — probably because I was swimming upwards of six hours a day before and after school. It shaped my competitive nature, which included competition with myself. As a swimmer, you’re always trying to beat your own time in the water. It can become an obsession as you work intently to shave seconds, if not milliseconds, off your time. As a result, I lived a very structured life. My mom ran a successful beauty salon and worked hard to achieve that success. She instilled that work ethic in my sister and me and encouraged us to get the best education we could get.
I credit my mom and my upbringing in shaping the person I am today. I can’t sit down and just relax. I love being busy. If I have downtime, that means I have time to start another project. Plus, I have three kids, ages 6–14, and I spend as much time with them as I can. In the mix of everything else, being a mom is another big part of who I am. In 2015, I had to be a mom in a way I never expected. My 14-year-old son, who was 9 at the time, was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL. He spent much of 2015 into 2016 fighting for his life. This was my introduction into the world of cancer. Over several months, he had many close calls. He relapsed after chemo and it was one challenge after the next. However, shortly after his relapse, we learned of a potentially life-saving drug. But there were still many barriers between us and the drug, including insurance. It was my background in advocacy and dealing with insurance companies that helped us get the drug. I was running in circles, always on the phone, while still trying to be Mom. It was an eye-opening experience, but it led myself and my son down important paths, including my eventual work with the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston as an advisor. After getting the drug, it wasn’t long before my son was matched for a bone marrow transplant. There was one perfect match in the world — a young woman who lived in Israel. In 2016, he received the transplant and, thankfully, has been cancer-free since then. Since then, I have continued my advisory role with the hospital. They call me when they need opinions or have questions I can help with as an advocate. I also became a board member for Be The Match (BeTheMatch.org), an organization that matches marrow donors with recipients. The organization was instrumental in my son’s recovery.
If I can do anything to get life-saving drugs to these families quicker or give them access to critical research, I’m going to do it.
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