Uninsured cancer patient finds her guardian angel

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by Janet Roach

WVEC.com

Posted on November 9, 2011 at 6:46 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:38 PM

COURTLAND, VA -- Courtland resident Brenda Tennessee lost her health insurance in the middle of her battle with breast cancer. 

She was diagnosed in April of 2010.  Complications from a double mastectomy landed her in ICU, on the brink of death. The long recovery left her unable to work and then she lost her health insurance right before she was to get another critical surgery.

"I was thinking that while I was still going through this, I would keep my insurance but they wrote me a letter out of nowhere," explains Tennessee.

So she canceled her appointment for reconstructive surgery and abandoned her follow-up care. A friend lead her to the Western Tidewater Free Clinic where Pam Witt is the clinic coordinator.

"They had done her mastectomy and left her with flaps -- in which you need to do the reconstruction," says Witt.

So workers at the clinic began to do what they do best, troubleshoot for the uninsured patients who come through the door needing so much more than healthcare.

"We meet them right where they are:  if they need assistance, if they need to be referred to social services.  We know they don't have food," says Witt. She adds the clinic gets about 40 new patients a month.

Witt and other workers got on the phone looking for someone to help Tennessee and found a surgeon to do the reconstruction surgery for free. Tennessee could not believe it.

"I can't believe it's really going to happen."

Tennessee will check in at Obici hospital in Suffolk at 5:30 Thursday morning for what will be a two-hour surgery.  The doctor who agreed to do it does not want to be identified but he’s known for his charitable work.  Meantime at the clinic, which serves the uninsured in Franklin, Suffolk, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, the volunteers and employees work on the next miracle.

"We hit a lot of road blocks and we make a lot of phone calls, and we just keep going," says Witt.

 

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