Curtis Tucker struggled to manage Crohn’s disease without health insurance and proper medication, and ultimately his condition required emergency surgery.
After his procedure, he was connected to Regional One Health’s ONE Health complex care program, which helps uninsured patients meet medical and social needs.
Now, with his Crohn’s under control, Curtis’ health is stable and he’s even hoping to go back to work as an auto mechanic.
Living with Crohn’s disease can feel like a rollercoaster. Doing it without regular health care or proper medication is akin to the ride going off the rails.
That’s the position Curtis Tucker found himself in as his 20-year battle with Crohn’s left him in declining health. Without medical insurance, Curtis struggled to access regular care and stay on his medication, both of which are crucial to managing a complex chronic condition like Crohn’s.
The soft-spoken former auto mechanic recalls how flareups started to have an increasingly negative impact on his quality of life: “I was having severe stomach pain. I couldn’t eat, and if I did, I’d be throwing up. I got down to 119 pounds,” he said. “I couldn’t work. I’d be up all night with the pain, and then I’d get up tired and still in pain.”
When Curtis arrived at the Regional One Health Emergency Department in December 2020, he was at a crisis point. He had a hole in his stomach that required surgery, and he was losing peripheral vision in his right eye, a common side effect of poorly controlled Crohn’s.
Curtis recovered well from surgery, but it was a wakeup call. When ONE Health Case Manager Cristina Wilson, RN stopped by his hospital room, he was ready to take charge of his health.
The ONE Health complex care program helps patients who don’t have health insurance obtain the regular medical care they need to manage chronic conditions. It also addresses a patient’s social determinants to health, like housing, nutrition and transportation.
For Curtis, the most pressing issue was receiving an IV medication recognized as the most effective means of managing Crohn’s. “It’s the only thing on the market that really helps, but it’s extremely expensive,” Cristina noted. “He was going without it because he couldn’t pay for it, and he was in extreme pain because of that.”
Curtis qualified for a program to cover the cost of his medications, so Cristina got him enrolled to receive the medication infusions. The difference was night and day: instead of suffering alone, Curtis had regular appointments at Regional One Health’s infusion center, where patients enjoy comfortable recliners, TVs, blankets, juice and snacks as they receive their medications.
Cristina also made sure Curtis was carefully monitored by his physicians. She connected him not only to primary care, but an eye doctor to assess his vision problems and imaging specialists to provide scans and diagnostic tests.
The additional support helped Curtis make crucial lifestyle changes. With the help of nutrition counseling and Cristina’s support in obtaining food stamps and information about mobile food pantries, Curtis adopted eating habits that help manage his Crohn’s.
“I miss barbecue and pizza. When I was young I could eat a whole pizza,” Curtis laughed. “But I realize I have to pay attention to what eat. I’m willing to do anything I can to stay healthy. This disease doesn’t just go away – that’s the thing with Crohn’s.”
Still, since committing to ONE Health, Curtis is doing well.
He’s started to regain some of the weight he lost, and he’s even able to focus on health issues outside Crohn’s – he watches his blood pressure carefully, got his COVID-19 vaccine, and plans to get the flu vaccine when flu season arrives.
“We try to lighten the burden as much as we can by connecting patients to the programs and services they need,” Cristina said, noting the next step is seeking disability benefits for Curtis. “It has changed his quality of life. He’s improved a lot.”
Crohn’s can still make it difficult to make concrete plans, but Curtis is getting to a point where he can start thinking ahead. When he does, his mind goes immediately to his days as a mechanic, when he could fix just about anything.
“I grew up working on cars, and I was pretty good. I’d really like to get back to that. I’ve been reading a lot, exploring different cars. That’s my passion,” he said. “These new electric cars, you’ve got to go back to school. That’s what I plan on doing if things go right. That’s my goal.”
With the support of ONE Health, he’s ready to get started.
“They’ve been a blessing,” Curtis said. “This is the only hospital I talk about and the only place I recommend. They pretty much saved my life.”