Lessons of the Heart
Tabitha was an English teacher in high school for 18 years. She has a big family, one that set a good example for her when she was younger. Her father would fix cars and give them to families in need – along with the keys and completed paperwork. One of his favorite expressions was: “You reap what you sow.” Her mother was kind, but didn’t tolerate bad language. “I would come up with my own words,” Tabitha explains, “and I still use them. My grandkids tease me about it.”
Tabitha married and had children, who in turn had grandchildren. After a while, that marriage didn’t work out. She took the chance to pick up daring hobbies. Hang gliding, rock climbing, and canoeing became her outlets. After a while, she married again; her second husband brought some children with him.
Tabitha continues, this time describing her health. Her first cardiac arrest occurred when she was only 19. Just when she thought her heart was back to normal, she had some more problems in her 20s. Because of the damage to her heart, Tabitha needed specialized treatment. On top of the heart problems, she has 17 rare conditions, some of which doctors haven’t heard of. Some of these put her body in what she calls “attack mode.”
As if those problems weren’t enough, Tabitha explains how the hospitals are rated with report cards. Instead of helping, the report cards end up harming. Hospitals worry so much about the rating that they don’t take certain patients. If a patient died or developed further complications, that would affect the hospital’s rating. She traveled to multiple hospitals – Sentara Norfolk General, UVA, Johns Hopkins – but all of them said she was too high-risk. They more or less gave up on her, and figured she would die anyway. Tabitha’s musical North Carolina accent, normally upbeat, turns downcast: “They dropped the ball.”
Another challenge Tabitha faced wasn’t directly related to her medical needs. Instead, it had to do with her location. The small-town dynamics of the Outer Banks made word of mouth an obstacle. If a few doctors heard about her and refused to help, it wouldn’t be long before all the doctors had the news. This led to a negative bias. But she couldn’t do anything about this – “I can’t get up and move.”
At one point, Tabitha was reading about Cleveland Clinic. This hospital has one of the best cardiac centers in the country. She applied, and the clinic accepted. “It gave me a chance to be seen by an unbiased doctor.” The first problem – finding a hospital that would accept her – was solved. Still, she faced a second problem: a means of transportation to and from Cleveland Clinic.
That’s when Tabitha found out about Mercy Medical Angels. After all she had been through, Tabitha didn’t get her hopes up. “I thought I would get shot down immediately, or have too many forms.” However, Mercy Medical Angels had a very direct approach. Tabitha was pleasantly surprised. “They graciously provided tickets out of Norfolk,” she said, adding that Norfolk was the closest airport.
Part of Tabitha’s journey involved a learning experience. She describes herself as a giver, and that she deals with the pain because she’s used to it. “I don’t necessarily want to take or ask for help,” she explains. If someone refused to offer help after she asked for it, she would feel embarrassed. Yet now she had to accept all the help she could get. Tabitha states that she’s grateful to everyone, including the people who helped her get through the airport via wheelchair. “It’s a lesson in humility,” Tabitha says.
Through everything, Tabitha is active in her faith and family. She wants to “be a smile” even though she’s struggling. “My prayer is to be well enough to help.” Then her voice chokes up. She wants to get all her kids and grandkids together so she can get a picture with everyone “in case something goes wrong.”
The doctors at Cleveland Clinic told her that her health will dramatically improve. “To be able to imagine the benefits – I can’t. Like when I was young again.”
Tabitha needs to return to Cleveland Clinic again soon. They will provide more help for her heart. She says that cardiac patients need a lot of medical clearance to fly. Still, she trusts that Mercy Medical Angels will continue to help.
Heavy Circumstances, Light Heart
Recently, Tabitha wrote a letter to Mercy Medical Angels. She had been in the hospital a few months ago. Complications prolonged her stay. There were more problems as well, from finances running low to issues within her family.
Nonetheless, she is grateful to Mercy Medical Angels for all the help they gave her. “I laugh and cry as I write this,” wrote Tabitha. “Not tears of sadness, tears of joy and appreciation, and laughter that as long as I have breath, I have a chance.”
These circumstances could weigh anyone down. Still, Tabitha’s heart is in the sky.