It’s slightly past 3:00 in the afternoon in Currituck County, NC. Tabitha is at home. She’s trying to recover from a fever and dental surgery. Before she can put another piece of cotton in her mouth to absorb anything left from the surgery site, the phone rings. It’s from Mercy Medical Angels’ communications specialist, Stephanie.
“I hope you can understand what I’m saying,” Tabitha apologizes. She explains that she has cotton in her mouth. “It’s perfectly fine,” says Stephanie. She takes her pen and pad, ready to write.
With that, Tabitha begins to tell her story.
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.”
When she married, she had children, who in turn had grandchildren. She gives Stephanie an interesting family fact: “I have a few memory problems, so I ask my grandchildren about spelling. And I was an English lit teacher!” Stephanie tries not to laugh. “I can proofread if you ever need help.” Tabitha jokingly accepts.
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. 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.
She explains how the hospitals are rated with report cards. Stephanie asks if that’s good thing. Tabitha answers that the report cards make it worse. 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.
Tabitha’s musical North Carolina accent, normally upbeat, turns downcast. “They dropped the ball.” Stephanie agrees, using a bowling analogy for humor. “They dropped the ball and it landed in the gutter lane.” Tabitha laughs a bit, then picks up the narrative again.
One of the other problems Tabitha faced was the small-town dynamics of the Outer Banks. 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. “I can’t get up and move.” she adds.
At one point, Tabitha was reading about Cleveland Clinic. This hospital has one of the best cardiac centers in the country. She applied, and was 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. There was a second problem: a means of transportation to and from Cleveland Clinic.
Then, she found out about Mercy Medical Angels. Mercy Medical Angels provided free transportation to her medical appointments, just like they have been doing for the past 45 years.