York College and The Health Wagon: a Partnership to Save Lives

By Alissa Pruitt |

Imagine being awakened at 3 a.m with a splitting headache. You woozily leave the warmth of your bed and flip on the light of the bathroom to open the medicine cabinet on the wall. With blurred vision you rely on your hands to find the Advil all the way in the back right corner where you usually keep it. Wishing to alleviate the pain as quickly as possible to return to bed, you swallow four pills and stumble back to bed. This is only the beginning.  

The headaches persist, growing in severity and frequency. A few months later, after numerous blood tests, brain scans and a biopsy, you are given a diagnosis: a primary malignant brain tumor. Immediately you feel hot tears well up in your eyes and your vision begins to tunnel. Cancer. Now you are openly crying as your doctor places a hand on your shoulder and looks at you with confident eyes.

“Although this tumor is cancerous, it is low grade, meaning it has not spread. You will have to have surgery to remove the tumor, but we are confident that after the surgery is completed your headaches will be gone and cancer will not be a concern moving forward.  We caught this very early, you will be just fine,” he explains with a soft, but sure voice.

Many months later you are sitting on your front porch around 8 a.m. It is the middle of June, and your whole body feels warm from the air and the smooth sip of coffee you just took. Now that you are cancer and headache free, you find yourself appreciating life a little more than usual. Your bout with cancer was brief, but still real. The costs of the tests and procedures were substantial, but insurance covered more than you had even hoped. You have promised yourself that you will make frequent appointments for checkups in the future, and you are now living a happier and healthier lifestyle. Life is good. You are cancer free.

Imagine this story from a different perspective.You don’t have any health insurance coverage. You let the headaches continue to worsen and become more frequent, because to you, it’s just a headache. A few years later the headaches are debilitating. You have become so frail you hardly recognize yourself in the mirror. You are now experiencing chronic pain in what feels like every single bone in your body, and can barely find the will or strength to get out of bed in the morning. But today you have to. You know this is serious. You are now starting to fear for your life.

Cancer. Stage 4 cancer. After staying overnight in the hospital you were scheduled an immediate CT brain scan that led to a diagnosis that has made your entire world come to a stop. You are informed that what had started as a localized malignant brain tumor, has now spread to other parts of your brain and down into your spine.

The doctors and nurses look at you with sympathetic eyes and bleak smiles. They inform you that your cancer is at a very late stage, and ask you why the symptoms you were experiencing didn’t make you see a doctor sooner.  “Isn’t it obvious?!” you think but don’t say. With no health insurance coverage, you avoid the obscene costs of visits to the doctors like the plague.  What they say next comes as no surprise, “Treatment will be very serious and also expensive.” You know this already.

You blame your cancer on the costs of health care out of your reach. You are already distraught over the thought of how you will afford to pay for the overnight stay and tests that led to this nightmare. You haven’t even begun to digest the fact that you may be dying because all you can think about is the money it is costing you.

This situation is real, and was described by Dr. Teresa Gardner and Dr. Paula Meade, two nurse practitioners who currently run The Health Wagon; a southwestern Virginia based nonprofit mobile health care organization. The Health Wagon serves at least 20 patients a day similar to the individual described in the situation above.

“These patients have no health insurance and no money. They are on their last life and they come to us as train wrecks.” explains Meade.

There are millions of Americans without health insurance coverage who either don’t have the means to get themselves to a health care provider, or because of the costs, wait until their health needs have become so dire they can no longer live their life. The poverty rate of the individuals served by The Health Wagon is 70% to 140% higher than the rest of the state of Virginia.  

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Mobile unit of The Health Wagon

This is why mobile health organizations are so desperately needed in this country. These organizations travel to the individuals who need their services the most, and often provide them with free and or discounted medical services. Mobile health organizations use cars, vans, busses and trucks to either take patients to affordable health care providers, or have all of the necessary medical equipment in the vehicle and bring the affordable care directly to the patient. The services mobile health care organizations provide can benefit communities nationwide that are similar to those served by The Health Wagon.  

The students of York College of Pennsylvania’s public relations campaigns class have spent the spring 2016 semester working with The Health Wagon to help to raise awareness about mobile health services, and the benefits these organizations provide. By the end of the semester in early May, the class will have completed various events and promotions that will not only raise money and awareness for The Health Wagon, but will also bring much needed attention to mobile health care organizations in general.

The devotion that The Health Wagon staff has for the patients they serve is undeniable.  This organization saves lives. The partnership between the public relations students of York College and The Health Wagon will save even more lives.

According to Gardner, The Health Wagon’s goals for 2016 include raising awareness about the organization through community outreach, and improving and continuing their efforts saving lives. It is the mission of the public relations students of York College to help them do just that.  


Featured image: (left to right) Teresa Gardner and Paula Hill-Meade.

Photo credit: both images were provided by the author and are from The Health Wagon’s website.

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