For now, Allyson Renfrow waits in limbo.
The Owensboro woman, who has been paralyzed from the rib cage down since the age of 12, has been a patient at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, since July 7. Doctors there performed surgery on her chronic pressure sores.
Infection related to those ulcers gnawed at her right hipbone so badly that surgeons at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville had to amputate her right leg on Jan. 29.
Renfrow’s treatment at Cleveland Clinic has gone well, and it’s time for her to return home to finish convalescing.
She has a room waiting for her at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital’s transitional care unit, where she plans to spend the next month.
But she recently learned her health insurance provider won’t cover the $25,000 expense to fly her home.
An ambulance ride is not an option. Doctors say the long drive would undo the work they’ve done and impede her healing.
To make matters worse, her insurance provider won’t pay for her to remain at Cleveland Clinic for the rest of her recovery period.
“I try to keep a smile on my face,” Renfrow said.
But this fighter admits to being mentally and emotionally exhausted at times.
For one thing, being more than eight hours away from husband, Jeff, and sons, Dakota, 14, and Kolton, 13, has been rough. Facetime and phone calls aren’t the same as in-person visits.
“I would love to get home to my family and kids,” Renfrow said.
Until Renfrow was 12, she seemed healthy. Then, she was diagnosed with a tumor in her spinal cord.
Surgeons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had to sever her spinal cord to remove the tumor.
She’s been paralyzed from the rib cage down since.
Renfrow, who was born and raised in Owensboro, graduated from Apollo High School, attended Owensboro Community & Technical College, married and had two children.
She loved her job at Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch, where she became a supervisor. She worked at the dispatch center 21 years — until health issues related to those unyielding pressure sores forced her early retirement in 2017.
Pressure ulcers had never been an issue before then.
“The last three years have been a nightmare for me,” she said.
She has endured several surgeries to mend those never-ending wounds.
“I’ve been septic three times,” Renfrow said. “Thank the Lord I didn’t die from being septic.”
On July 8, doctors at Cleveland Clinic performed surgery to clean out infection and trim compromised bone in Renfrow’s sacrum area, around the base of her spinal column.
Since then, she’s been confined to a “sand bed,” which keeps pressure off her ulcers.
Renfrow can’t sit up because doctors don’t want any pressure on the affected area. Even with the sand bed, she must rotate side-to-side every two to three hours.
She’s on three IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks. Later, doctors will transition her slowly to oral medication.
Her condition — osteomyelitis — is a rare infection of the bone that affects about two out of every 10,000 people, according to information on the Cleveland Clinic website.
Like cancer, her doctors warned, it can recur.
“I am praying it won’t come back,” Renfrow said.
She knows her friends and family are doing everything they can to ease her concerns and make her stay in Cleveland more palatable.
For example, when they found out the medical center stocks Coke products only, her mother-in-law shipped three 12-packs of diet Mountain Dew to Renfrow. Mountain Dew is her favorite drink.
Renfrow, who doesn’t have a big appetite anyway, picks at hospital food. To spice up her food life, friends and family have sent meals via Grubhub — pizza from Papa John’s, a hamburger from Five Guys and chicken strips from Popeye’s.
“I have so much love from everybody. I am blessed,” Renfrow said.
GoFundMe AccountIn addition, Rhonda Johnson, one of Renfrow’s friends, started a GoFundMe page on July 20 in an effort to raise the $25,000 to fly Renfrow back to Owensboro. The page is titled: “Allyson needs help coming home.”
By Wednesday afternoon, $3,900 had been raised.
Renfrow tears up when she talks about the love friends and family — and their efforts to bring her home.
Over and over, she reminds herself and others how blessed she is.
Renfrow, a member of BridgePointe Church, credits her faith with helping her see beyond her current health issues and problems returning to Owensboro.
“I try to keep a good outlook on things,” she said. “I know other people have it worse than me.
“I’ve been septic three times, and I survived. God’s got a plan for me.”
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