Despite living 556 miles apart, two families formed an unbreakable bond that has led to healing for both a Roper St. Francis Healthcare teammate as well as a resident of the Bahamas.
The compassion a kind-hearted family showed Critical Care Nurse Specialist Dawn Keller during a life-threatening emergency in the Bahamas has been reciprocated as one of those family members came to Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital to be the recipient of a mostly donated knee replacement surgery.
“They don’t have anywhere near the same level of care available in the Bahamas,” Keller said. “I’m just so grateful that, as an organization, Roper St. Francis Healthcare would be willing to entertain the idea, let alone listen to this story and step in to help.”
A vacation emergency
Dawn and her family got to know Errol Meadows in the Bahamas through his work as a driver. The families formed a connection after the Kellers’ visit took an alarming turn in March 2020.
Dawn and her husband, David, arrived as countries began shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amidst curfews, businesses closing and borders prohibiting crossing, Dawn fell ill, and a visit to the emergency room revealed she had kidney stones and a resulting infection.
The following day, Dawn was in the ER again. This time she was septic and experiencing a dangerously dramatic drop in her blood pressure.
She went into a Bahamian operating room for tracheal intubation and emergency surgery to have a kidney stone removed. She woke up at Roper Hospital four days later after her breathing tube was removed.
With the support of Sen. Tim Scott’s office, David had received approval to travel with his unconscious wife back to Charleston. Roper St. Francis Healthcare Nurse Practitioner Lee Bastian flew down to the Bahamas to oversee the medical transfer. Meadows played an integral role through it all, driving David and Bastian to and from the ER and rushing to meet curfews.
“Errol was our go-to during this entire experience,” Dawn said. “He never wavered. My husband always tells him, ‘You’re part of our family now.’”
Returning the favor
Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, the Kellers and Meadows stayed in touch while Dawn healed from her infection. When restrictions were lifted in 2021, the Kellers reunited with the Meadows in the Bahamas. That’s when they met Errol’s wife, Olga, and learned of her debilitating arthritis. The cartilage in her knee was completely gone, and bone had been rubbing on bone.
“Her arthritis had gotten so severe that she could barely walk,” Dawn said.
The Meadows had been saving for Olga’s knee replacement surgery only to discover there were no longer any orthopaedic surgeons in Nassau. They were told they had to go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the surgery, which was out of the question due to the cost and Errol’s inability to take time away from work.
“He is the family’s main provider,” Dawn said. “He has to work to take care of them.”
Grateful for the assistance she received from the Meadows family during her health crisis, Dawn was determined to find a way to help. She talked to Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Crawford and mustered up the courage to ask for help from her teammates.
“I was so nervous because I knew it was a big ask,” Dawn said. “I was blown away by how quickly teammates responded and assured me that we would find a way to make this work. It’s never made me prouder to work for an organization.”
Rallying the troops
Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Scott McDermott and his team volunteered to perform a knee replacement surgery and treat Olga’s painful condition without pay.
“When Dawn told me about Olga and her situation, I told her I would do anything to help,” Dr. McDermott said. “Olga’s knee condition was much more severe than what I typically see in a U.S. patient. At the end of the day, when you work in medicine, you just want to help people. Everybody deserves that.”
Vice President and Anesthesiologist Dr. Mitchell Siegan and his team donated their anesthesia services to Olga’s care.
“When Dawn asked if my team and I could volunteer our time, I couldn’t say yes fast enough,” said Dr. Siegan. “Nothing brings me greater joy than knowing that I can take what I do as part of my everyday life and give back to those in need.”
This is another example of Dawn’s compassionate care of those who are less fortunate. She’s won the system’s highest honor, the President’s Humanitarian Award, for her work in helping others.
“She is, in my mind, one of those really special people who we have in our system and our community,” Siegan said. “Charity and taking care of teammates is at the core of who she is. It permeates throughout her entire family.”
On the mend
Olga underwent a successful knee replacement surgery at Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital on Feb. 13. Although the Meadows family could not afford for Errol to leave work and accompany Olga to Charleston, one of Olga’s three children, Najma, has been by her side throughout the entire experience. Olga and Najma will spend the rest of the month with Dawn and her family before flying back home to the Bahamas.
A full recovery for knee replacement can take around three months. To kick-start the recovery process, Olga is receiving physical therapy from Roper Home Health’s rehabilitation services and will bring home a full recovery plan to continue her healing journey.
“My experience at Roper St. Francis Berkeley could not have been any better, it was top-notch,” Olga said. “The staff reminded me of Bahamian people at home – warm and caring. They treated me like they have known me forever. After meeting Dawn and David, now I really believe in angels. Without them, this surgery never would have happened. I believe God sent these angels to us and they will always be our friends.”
Story by Communications Specialist Mia Mendez