When Sandra Griffin moved to Monticello, Florida in December of 2008, little did she know that her life was going to be changed forever. After losing her job of 20 years at the University of Southern California, Sandra decided to retire and move to the East Coast with her husband, Charles. Like so many others today, Sandra had not only lost her job, but she lost her health insurance as well. After battling an undiagnosed health condition for over five years, Sandra was concerned that without health insurance, she was never going to find a doctor that would truly listen to her.
Countless doctor visits in California had left Sandra unsatisfied with her care. She felt like the doctors were only looking at the surface of her concerns and would only associate her condition with constipation, weight gain and her previous diagnosis of Lupus. But Sandra knew her body was telling her something was seriously wrong. In fact, Sandra was struggling with an enlarged stomach, she could hardly walk, and her back pain was unbearable. Sandra says, “I could barely do everyday tasks. Everybody thought I was getting fat and wondered why I was just letting myself go.”
Sandra’s condition worsened over the next year. She finally decided to seek medical attention at her local health department- the only place she thought would help her without insurance. Sandra was evaluated at the health department and then referred to the small town of Greenville, Florida, where she met Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Hengstebeck at Tri-County Family Health Care. Apprehensive about going to another doctor and worried about being uninsured, Sandra was pleasantly surprised to find out that Tri-County Family Health Care offered a sliding-scale fee program that helped uninsured patients get quality, affordable care.
Sandra also found a doctor that listened. Upon her initial evaluation of Sandra, Dr. Hengstebeck knew that there were some abnormalities with Sandra’s abdomen and it certainly was not typical weight gain and constipation. To this day, Dr. Hengstebeck and Sandra laugh when they reminisce about their first encounter. To rule out all possibilities, Sandra says, “Dr. Liz gave me a pregnancy test!” But Sandra knew that pregnancy was not the cause of her back pain and suffering. The 30 minute time frame that Sandra was given with Dr. Hengstebeck, time that Dr. Hengstebeck spent listening and understanding, proved to be more important than the combination of all of Sandra’s previous doctor visits in California.
After a few additional tests and an immediate referral to Dr. John McBroom, gynecologic oncologist of Tallahassee, it was discovered that Sandra had been suffering from a benign uterine fibroid tumor, which had now grown to weigh 26 pounds. “It never crossed my mind that I had a tumor,” said Sandra. With the threat of the tumor potentially rupturing and becoming life threatening, Dr. Hengstebeck and Dr. McBroom decided that the time was right to remove the tumor as soon as possible. Thankfully, Sandra’s timing could not have been better. She just so happened to be eligible for Medicare benefits starting in February of 2010, so two months after her initial visit with Dr. Hengstebeck, Sandra was ready to undergo the surgery of a lifetime.
Sandra remembers being scared to death and thought it could be cancerous. She recalls, “Dr. Hengstebeck did not sugar coat it. I was prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. We were hopeful but realistic.” Today, Sandra walks proudly into Tri-County Family Health Care without any assistance, without any pain and 26 pounds lighter. She exclaims, “Look Dr. Liz, I can actually wear pants with a zipper!” The negative quality of life associated with her tumor had vanished. “I get to go to California to see the kids as a new person,” Sandra reveals. Dr. Hengstebeck reflects on Sandra’s case, “This is a reminder that it is important to stop and listen. What the patient tells us is so much more important than what any test can tell us.”
Sandra’s story is one of hope. It shows what Tri-County Family Health Care is all about and what we do each and every day to improve the lives of others. We have the opportunity to put our patients’ insurance and financial concerns to the side and provide affordable, quality health care. Sandra Griffin was allowed to live with a slowly growing tumor for over five years because of her lack of insurance and inability to pay a doctor to give her the proper care and attention she deserved. Tri-County Family Health Care had the ability to help Sandra pay for her fateful initial visit with Dr. Hengstebeck. Now that she was given hope and access to quality care, Sandra shares one message with Dr. Hengstebeck, “Thank you for listening that day.”
— Story provided Tri-County Family Health CarePrint this story