For Dan Wilson, losing the gift of sight was symbolic. He was already in a dark place, a tough spot in a bumpy life. His health was failing, his eyesight rapidly fading. He had no place to call home.
Wilson was nearly blind because of poorly treated diabetes. All his life, he said, he had taken for granted the ability to see; then one day, when he was 48, it was "like someone was dimming the lights, just a little bit at a time."
"Losing my eyesight started out like I was looking at the sky with no lights," he said. "Then it became darker and like I had tree branches stretching over my eyes with a bright light behind it. Then one day, it was just shadows, and then it was just dark."
Then another blow: He found himself in the position of not having a permanent place to call home. That is when he decided to move back to Sumter. Soon after, he ended up in the emergency room - again.
That's where Marian Baker found him.
Baker is the Care Transition coordinator at Palmetto Health Tuomey. She directs the Healthy Outcomes Program, which aims to help people in the community who are uninsured, live below the poverty line, have one or more chronic illnesses and overuse the emergency room for primary care. The goal is to create a relationship with each participant, develop a plan of care to meet his or her physiological, mental, behavioral and social needs and assign them a medical home with either Sumter Family Health Center or Sandhills Medical Foundation.
"I made a connection to Mr. Wilson," Baker said. "He's kind, intelligent, a gentleman who fell on hard times due to his health. It was such an unfortunate situation."
Wilson was in fragile health, but Baker was able to develop a plan of care that helped him get his diabetes and other health issues under control. He has made such great progress that soon he will be able to leave the hospital. He'll undergo vocational rehabilitation and should soon be able to look for work and a home of his own.
Surgery is not typically a part of the minimally funded HOP program, but in mid-November, Wilson was able to have the cataracts that were blinding him removed from his right eye. A few days later, he had a procedure on the left eye, and now he is on his way to having full vision again.
"I saw clouds. I saw colors. I saw everything - it's all so vibrant," he said. "Those things I took for granted, you better believe I won't ever again."
Working for Healthy Outcomes
Palmetto Health Tuomey provides transitional care to patients who come into the ER repeatedly and who meet the qualifications for the Healthy Outcomes Program -more than one chronic illness, no insurance, few resources.
"It's important that there is an advocate for these people's health," Baker said. "Sometimes people don't know these types of options exist, and that's where my department comes in. We educate them, keep them accountable and on track and hopefully help them move on into a better life."
She works individually with patients to set them up with a physician, sign them up for home care or drug assistance programs - whatever they need to help them help themselves stay healthy, she guides them to it.
Wilson found out he met the requirements for HOP after repeated visits to the emergency department. He had been out of work due to his failing eyesight but was struggling to get on disability. He said he was very proud and did not want to ask for help, though he knew he needed it.
"I've always worked, since I was 14 working the farms in Summerville," he said. "My adopted father instilled that in me, to work hard and to provide. So not being able to work and needing disability, it hurt my pride."
From the beginning, Wilson said, his care at Palmetto Health Tuomey was exceptional.
"I can't say enough about the nurses, case managers, the CNAs, the doctors - there's too many, they all gave me love and care. Miss Marian and the rest of the team, they went above and beyond what someone in their position needs to do. I am grateful," he said.
That compassionate care was something else Wilson was missing from his life.
"Let me tell you," he said, "when your health fails you, you don't have a job or a place to live, and it feels like you've been abandoned, you get depressed and you give up. It's lonely and scary because you have to trust others to give you the right medication and dosage, to lead you to the right places, to take you where you need to go. When you go blind, it's very scary not to be able to do for yourself."
Sometimes the nurses provided what he called "tough love," but it was "exactly" what he needed. One night-nurse especially pushed him to take care of himself, he said.
When he was admitted to the hospital, he weighed less than 110 pounds and was in frail health.
"I thought I was leaving this world. I truly did. But this nurse came in and told me she wasn't going to baby me, and pretty soon I was up and taking my showers and taking care of my own personal needs - even with no eyesight," he said. "And Miss Marian Baker? See, I had never seen her face, just heard her voice.
"So one day, after the surgery, this woman comes into my room and in my heart, I just felt that it was Miss Marian."
"When I came into the room," Baker said, "he knew who I was. He said he just felt it. And that was a special moment."
"Miss Marian saved my life," Wilson said. "My future - I won't waste it. I have been given so much. I have my eyesight back. I want to move forward with my life and help others."
He says that when he recovers he plans to find a job and pay it forward.
"I am looking forward to that. I really am," he said.
For more information about the HOP program, call (803) 774-8611 and leave a name and contact information. Speak slowly and clearly. A HOP representative will return the call and set up an interview to see if you qualify.