Darlene Hawes has had health problems her entire life. As a child growing up in west Charlotte, she hated watching the neighborhood kids playing outside from her front door, unable to join in because she had been born with a hole in her aortic valve – a heart condition that prevented her from exerting herself. She longed for the freedom to live without having to worry about her health.
“I always told myself, ‘When I get to an age when I can take care of me, I’m going to take care of me,” she says.
And that’s what she did. As soon as she could get a job, Hawes has worked and supported herself. But life also got in the way. Between her uncertain health and helping to support her parents, she ended up dropping out of high school.
“School was in and out,” Hawes says. “I went to the 11th grade, but I kept dealing with illness. I just put my education aside every time something came up.”
As she prepares to turn 56 in January, Hawes has been through a lot. A vertical scar on her chest tells of an open-heart surgery she had in 2003 after doctors told her that her heart valve was hanging on by a string. Her husband passed away in 2012, leaving her bereaved and without the health coverage she had needed from his insurance plan.
She spent two years trying to get by without seeing a doctor. The stress of piecing together the care she needed was overwhelming. To cope, she filled journals writing about that emotional time.
“I didn’t go to the doctor because I didn’t have insurance,” Hawes says. “By the grace of God, I’m here.”
Hawes didn’t realize there were affordable coverage options available to her until she sought help from Legal Services of Southern Piedmont for a tax matter regarding her husband’s estate. She was happy to learn that LSSP also offered free in-person assistance to help her enroll for 2016 health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.
In November, she re-enrolled in her second year of ACA coverage with a $0 per month premium. As someone who has had serious health problems her entire life, Hawes realizes the value of health insurance and the comfort it provides.
She can access the care that she would otherwise not be able to afford thanks to the ACA. Hawes uses her insurance for checkups and to cover blood-thinning medication that she needs to prevent the risk of stroke and blood clots with her condition. She has enjoyed developing a relationship her doctor by going to appointments more regularly.
“I wouldn’t be able to live my everyday life knowing I have this condition,” Hawes says. “Without this help, I wouldn’t be here. I feel more comfortable about living now. I had given up on health insurance before.”
Access to health coverage has allowed Hawes to seek that independence she longed for as a child. She still dreams of earning her G.E.D. She loves writing poetry and singing as ways of celebrating her faith.
She realizes her story is one of grace, and she hopes that by sharing it, others will see the value of access to health care.
“Every day, I take life,” Hawes says. “I’m thankful and grateful for it. God gave me another chance, and I decided I needed to take it. Today is about giving back. I want to make God proud of me.”