I was walking the dimly lit streets of Shepherdstown towards my jeep, after attending an Upper Potomac Music Weekend, when my satchel and fiddle case began to feel heavier than usual. Next, I felt a wave of complete exhaustion and passed out onto the sidewalk. The hard fall brought me to my senses. Instead of calling 911, I drove myself home. “How could something be seriously wrong,” I thought, as a healthy woman under 45. There was a scratch on my eyeglass lens. It bothered me.

Two years have passed since that day, ending with two medevac helicopter rides. After nearly a month-long hospital stay at the University of Maryland Medical Center, I was sent home on the heart transplant waiting list. A few months ago, my cardiologist pronounced me recovered, heart intact.

As a librarian, this experience compelled me to bury myself in the memoir literature of catastrophic illness. I noticed three recurring similarities among those who fared well, as I had, given their diagnoses. I found myself discussing these similarities with a medical school student at a recent doctor appointment.

The first is that the individuals resided relatively close to quality healthcare. I lived close enough to healthcare teams in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties who worked together to medevac me to a Level I Trauma Center. The second is having a strong informal support network. The help I received from family, friends, and my faith and music communities gave me the support I needed for my activities of daily living and emotional well-being. Lastly, most had quality health insurance or found unconventional ways to cover their expenses. My health expenses exceeded $1 million the year of my illness—all but a small copay was covered by insurance.

Articulating these points sent me home thinking beyond my own healthcare concerns to the healthcare concerns of others in our community—our neighbors.

  • Are there individuals or groups in our community who have difficulty accessing quality healthcare because of geographic or transportation issues? I wonder whether the funding levels of our local emergency responders are adequate. It troubles me that my fire company needs to mail a letter each year asking for donations to assist with operating expenses.
  • Are there ways we can strengthen our informal support networks, given contemporary lifestyles that isolate us from interpersonal communication? I wonder if many people know about Meal Train, SignupGenius, Lotsa Helping Hands, or CaringBridge. These are free websites used to coordinate support for individuals in times of need, including delivering meals, providing rides to medical appointments, and arranging childcare.
  • Are there individuals in our community that lack access to quality, affordable health insurance? I wonder how many struggle to meet insurance premiums. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, Health Reform and Changes in Health Insurance Coverage in 2017, reveals that the percent of uninsured, non-elderly adult state residents grew 4.6 percent between 2016 and 2017—the largest change reported among all 50 states.

I now treasure more dearly each moment of life. I’m thankful for those involved in enabling me to continue my life’s story. The experience also raised my awareness of healthcare-related community issues, including emergency responder funding, informal support networks, and health insurance. These issues impact quality of life and reflect on how we treat our neighbors.


— ARTICLE BY: Aida Marissa Smith

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