By Callie Walston
My name is Callie and I am writing today on behalf of a dear friend, Jackie Austin.
While pondering a title for the article for this piece, the words “Can You Hold, Please?” kept swirling in my head as I wrestled with how to help tell her story. Some of these words are Jackie’s; some of these words are mine. Jackie’s spirit is strong but her voice has become weary and tired. The battle against an illness and a system has made it very difficult for her to get the help she needs to be whole again.
So, who is Jackie?
Jackie: I am a 52-year-old proud mom living in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. My background is intricately woven with the love of being outdoors, hiking and exploring this big beautiful world. I compete and row with the masters rowing team in Asheville and enjoy being an artist with a passion for expressing myself through the tip of my paintbrush. I’ve owned a small business, love dancing and listening to live music. My happiest times the ones surrounded by my friends and family.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with severe iron deficiency anemia and internal bleeding that is hiding somewhere in my gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, after multiple tests and procedures, determined doctors have not been able to locate the source of bleeding and iron loss. I continue to experiment with every form of medicine; homeopathic and traditional. The bleeding slowly continues, masking itself from the eyes of high-end technology. Every procedure, every treatment, every idea has come up empty. During periods of intense bleeding, going up a flight of stairs can be a challenge and carrying out routine activities can become completely overwhelming; both physically and emotionally. Currently, the only way to keep my blood oxygenated and heart pumping is to receive regular iron infusions. Each infusion takes about five hours. It is a long day, one without pay and is extremely costly. The silver lining is they do give me short stints of feeling better until my numbers tank and I need to return for more infusions.
Can you hold, please?
I do hold steady when the bag drips into my arm. For now the iron is my lifeline. I do hold steady when I am repeatedly poked and prodded. I try to hold steady when I fight with the fears that battle to control my body and mind. There are days when I quietly moan, yes I can, and yes I will hold.
Callie: I personally cannot imagine what Jackie goes through neither during those long five hours having the iron infusions nor the remaining emotionally taxing hours in her day. The darkness that must hover over her like a black cloud, while the questions of “what’s next” and “what if” spin frantically out of control like a tornado in the night. I am in awe of her strength and will to fight. She seems to not allow herself to have time for fear. Her courage and perseverance is a characteristic I admire and want to mirror in my own life.
Can you hold, please?
Jackie: Some days I struggle to hold. I struggle to even find the words or strength to answer the question. Struggling to get the care I need has almost been as much of a struggle as feeling sick itself. I have been referred to as the “stumper” by the doctors, because of my financial situation. There are even a few medical offices who have told me there is nothing they can do for me and to seek help elsewhere. In the dark hours of the night my mind can walk me down the trail of what ifs. What happens if I lose my job? What happens if I can’t pay rent? Will they take my car? Morning comes and I resolve to push those thoughts away and walk into life rather than allow it to walk all over me.
Callie: Without being able to locate the bleeding’s point of origin, Jackie will need to receive these regular iron infusions for the rest of her life. Every single organ in the body needs iron. Without the regular iron infusions, the doctors have told her she will wither away and her heart will stop. If you are anything like me, in hearing just this much of the story, you might be asking yourself what’s next too. You might be asking yourself what if this were my mother? My sister? My best friend? You might be asking yourself what you can do to help. Well, I knew what I could do to help. After getting on www.tinyurl.com/jackiesheart to make my monetary donation, I sat down and made a plan.
I made a plan to fundraise and bring her story out into action. I made a plan to advocate and fight for Jackie. I made a plan to commit myself to walking beside her in this journey. When she is weak, I will stand by her and I will carry her if I need to. I made a plan to be her voice until the bleeding can be found. I made a plan to give me hope. I made a plan that gave her hope. In times like this—hope, courage, prayer and love are all fabulously healing and I will depend on each to persevere.
Jackie: My unique case has caught the attention of a group of gastrointestinal doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. This team has successfully treated patients with elusive GI bleeds. My goal is to get there as soon as I possibly can. The medical costs will be significant and in the end, there are no guarantees. At this point, simply maintaining daily living expenses is beyond my means. For the past three years I have been buried in medical debt from the dead end search to find the bleeding source, complicated by losing the ability to run my business. For everything there is a season and the season has begun to turn …
Can you hold, please?
Since the day www.tinyurl.com/jackiesheart went live the words Callie wrote, “Can you hold, please?” can be answered with a big and bold Yes. The love and overwhelming support that has come my way has given me great hope. To recognize that although there were days and years I thought I was alone in this journey I found out quickly I was never alone at all. I am so very grateful to all of you who have reached out to me. I was raised to believe in the power of human kindness and I look forward to giving back in any and every way I can.
My struggle is not over, my battle is not won but I will walk with new strength infused into my soul from my community. Great lessons have been gifted to me through this illness; I need not be pitied, nor am I a victim. I simply want to get better and get the help I need whether it is the Mayo Clinic in Florida or further, to help climb out of this emotional, physical and financial hole.
Can you hold, please?
Callie: As I sit in the drive-through line at a local coffee shop I think about the things Jackie has taught me. Happiness comes from helping others. Money is tangible and love is not. The value in trying every day to add life to your days, not necessarily days to your life. She has reminded me what it feels like to laugh and to smile from deep within. Her bravery, through hopefully the most challenging time of her life, is honorable. Her tears are never tears of sorrow. They are tears of hope, tears of true astonishment at the support she has around her, tears of gratefulness and overwhelming love. Her tears say the simple words, thank you, louder than the voice can speak.
Can you hold, please? Yes, Yes I can. So, I sit here holding—in complete and utter awe of my friend, Jackie; her perseverance, her courage, her strength.
A heart worth a beat.
I need your help. Help for a woman whose door was always open, whose hand was always out, and whose glass has always been more than half full.
She needs your help.
Please visit her fundraising website, www.tinyurl.com/jackiesheart for updates on events such as a charity golf tournament and a blue grass/BBQ dinner. If you have any questions or would like to be an ambassador to help raise funds and awareness for Jackie’s heart please contact us through www.tinyurl.com/jackiesheart.
Callie Walston Friend of Jackie Austin, believer in a better world, advocate for a cause and life lover. firstname.lastname@example.org.