Eliminating Bumps in the Road

Susie (left) and her mom, Maria, are ‘forever grateful’ for the gift of Angel Bus travel.
This is a guest post by Emily Altmann, a senior communications major at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, serving as an intern with Mercy Medical Angels. When Susie, a recent Angel Wheels patient, was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma in August of 2010, options were limited for the 26-year-old, single mother of three. Cholangiocarcinoma is a relatively rare bile duct cancer that affects the liver’s ability to drain bile into the small intestine.  This type of cancer is typically diagnosed at its more advanced stages and is unresponsive to chemotherapy and radiation, leaving surgery as the only option. For many years, Susie reported pain but was misdiagnosed.  After the birth of her son and increasingly worse abdominal pains, doctors were able to remove her gallbladder and perform a second biopsy of the tumor.  As it turns out, they said the cancer has likely been affecting her for the last three years. “After talking with my oncologist and confirming that it was indeed cancer, we began searching for surgeons,” said Susie.  “The surgeon most qualified here in El Paso unfortunately did not feel he could perform the surgery I needed, so I was referred to a doctor at MD Anderson.” Because of her illness, Susie was forced to leave her job as a medical assistant.  This limited income put the brakes on Susie’s quest for treatment.  MD Anderson is located in Houston, over 700 miles from her home in El Paso, and transportation is not cheap. “I had no idea how I was going to get to Houston. While searching online, I came across the Angel Wheels website and took a chance and submitted a request for help,” she said.  That same day she received a response from coordinator Jim Smith.  “I was overwhelmed with emotion, because it is hard in the world today to find people like Jim and the Angel Wheels staff so willing to help at a moment’s notice.” Angel Wheels purchased Greyhound bus tickets for Susie and her mother, Maria, for the trip to Houston.  For the return trip, an Angel Wheels volunteer, Randy Couk, drove mother and daughter home in his private motor coach. “They were very nice people, very humble, very appreciative,” said Randy. Randy has been working with Angel Bus since its beginning in 2000 with original founder, Bill Connor.  When Mercy Medical Angels adopted the dormant program, Couk caught word of it and said, “Sign me up!” The luxury of a private motor coach is beneficial to patients like Susie, who after a long surgery, may be experiencing great pain and discomfort.  These private coaches often afford beds to lie in, air temperature control, refrigerators to keep medication cold, and many other ways to keep a sick patient much more comfortable. “It’s a very rewarding experience,” he said.  Thanks to Randy and Angel Wheels, Susie was able to return home to her three children in as little discomfort as possible. “As for me and my family we are forever grateful and thankful for Jim, Randy and the Angel Wheels family,” she said. “My experience was a memorable one, one that proves that there is good out there in the world. Right now I am in remission, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

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