Until recently, Jonathan Pinkard, 27, was completely on his own. Living in a men’s homeless shelter just outside of Atlanta, Pinkard desperately needed a heart transplant, but without a support system of caregivers who could care for him after the procedure in place, Pinkard was disqualified from the heart transplant waiting list. Working as an office clerk in Warm Springs, GA, Pinkard had few options and nowhere to turn.
Just four months after learning that he needed a new heart, he wound up back in the hospital. He had been down this road before, but this time he was assigned to nurse Lori Wood, a single mother of three living just outside of Atlanta. When she learned of Pinkard’s condition and that he was deemed ineligible for a heart transplant, she took matters into her own hands.
Within just two days of knowing Pinkard, she suggested the unimaginable. She offered to “adopt” Pinkard, so he could get a new heart.
A Life-Saving Act of Kindness
Adopting a complete stranger may seem unthinkable to some, but for Lori Wood, it was the only option. Wood had a reputation for leaving her personal life at home when she was working at the hospital, but she made an exception for Pinkard. She realized that the only thing standing between him and a new heart was the fact that he didn’t have a home or support system. As Wood told the Washington Post, “That can be very frustrating if you know a patient needs something, and for whatever reason, they can’t have it. It gnaws at you.”
She grew increasingly frustrated when she learned that Pinkard wasn’t getting medical tests because he wasn’t eligible for a heart transplant. With an extra room and plenty of space, she decided to welcome Pinkard into her family. When he was discharged from the hospital, she took him home to meet her three sons at their farmhouse in Hogansville, about an hour south of Atlanta. With just a cellphone to his name, Pinkard was in shock to see such a random act of kindness.
Since taking him in, Pinkard has become one of the family. He’s been referring to Wood as “Mama” since last January. “From the day I went home with her, she felt like my second mom.” On August 1st, 2019, Pinkard underwent a 7-hour heart transplant and he’s expected to return to work in the near future, but none of it would have been possible without Lori Wood.
For going above and beyond for her patients, Wood was recently honored by Piedmont Healthcare. Piedmont Newnan Chief Executive Mike Robertson commented, “Lori gave Jonathan a new life, a new heart and a new family. Because of her and what she’s done, we all want to become better people and caregivers.”
Healthcare and the Homeless
Unfortunately, Pinkard’s story isn’t all that uncommon. The federal government estimates that around 1.5 million people experience homelessness every year, but other estimates find up to twice this number of people are actually without housing in any given year. Far too many homeless individuals go without medical care all over the country. In fact, being diagnosed with a long-term medical condition or chronic illness can lead to homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, those living in homeless shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population. On any given night in 2017, 20% of the homeless population reported having a serious mental illness, 16% had conditions related to chronic substance abuse, and more than 10,000 people had HIV/AIDS. Diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS are found at high rates among the homeless population, sometimes three to six times higher than that of the general population.
Homeless individuals often suffer from limited access to healthcare. Many do not have health insurance, which means receiving care can be costly. Without a stable address, homeless individuals may be denied coverage or healthcare services all together. Performing a complex procedure on a homeless patient can seem risky if they don’t have a place to recover once they leave the facility. A homeless shelter is no place to recover from a heart transplant. Those living in homeless shelters are often subject to communicable diseases that can cause infection and other serious health concerns. There’s also no safe place to store medical supplies at a homeless shelter, forcing care providers and administrators to turn away homeless patients.
However, most communities do have lines of support in place for homeless individuals seeking medical care. Health Care for the Homeless Clinics is a non-profit institution that provides basic health services to homeless individuals, but those looking for more advanced care tend to face limited options. Homeless individuals die an average 12 years earlier than the general U.S. population.
Sustainable housing is often the best solution to the problem. Access to housing dramatically improves health outcomes. It also provides a safe space for patients to recover from illnesses and procedures.
If you are tasked with caring for a homeless patient, direct them to a sustainable housing facility and encourage them to take shelter as a way of improving their overall health. Finding housing is often the only way for these patients to become eligible for advanced medical procedures like a heart transplant. Spread the word and encourage your patients to find sustainable housing in the local community.