Published on July 18, 2022

Forrest General Hospital Supports Pine Belt Local During International Health Crisis

Madison Thornton hugs her dad, Michael, after arriving at Forrest General Hospital Tuesday night.

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (July 18, 2022) The last time Madison Thornton was at Forrest General Hospital, she was volunteering as a Spirit Girl or in the Emergency Room where she was handing out ice chips, juice, and blankets to patients, or lending a caring ear to someone who needed to talk. Last Tuesday night, after a 12-hour flight from Italy, with stops in Iceland and Canada, Thornton found herself in the ER once again. This time, she was the patient on the gurney.

A Dixie resident, Thornton, who was valedictorian of her senior class at Forrest County Agricultural High School and a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, is currently a second-year medical student at Tulane University. Thornton was studying in Italy as part of the university’s MD/MPH program, a four-year program which allows her to simultaneously get her medical degree and a Master’s degree, when she fell ill. Less than 24 hours into the two-week program, Thornton passed out during a Monday afternoon break from studies. Other doctoral students with her were able to care for her until an ambulance could be dispatched and transport her to the hospital. They told her she was unresponsive for a full two minutes and her pulse was very weak. Before passing out, all Thornton remembers is seeing spots and her chest felt weird. The next thing she knew, her friends were trying to revive her.

Having fallen face first into a ditch, Madison avoided hitting her head, so there was no concussion, but there were some irregularities with her heart. Luckily, the doctor caring for her was fluent in English and could communicate. But when he left on vacation, she was left on her own with no one in the hospital who spoke English and no translator.

Her mother, Tracie, flew to her daughter’s side when it was determined Madison would be hospitalized for more than just the one night for observation. She found her daughter in horrible conditions. They had not cleaned Madison’s facial wounds from her fall and her legs were still covered in dirt. Allergic to latex, Madison had burns and whelps on her arms where the nurses had touched her wearing latex gloves. She had bedbug bites all over her arms and got one meal a day, if lucky.

After seeing all this, her parents knew they had to get her out of the hospital and back home for medical attention. Madison said they thought about risking it and flying commercially, but doctors advised against that. A rally cry went out when her mother made a Facebook post about the horrid conditions, and things began moving from there. Friends called friends, and a GoFundMe Page was set up to raise funds to get Madison transported back to Mississippi. Members of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation and the governor were contacted. The United States Embassy, which was to have been a side trip during Thornton’s course work, became involved on a totally different scale. And luckily, Tulane University had a Global Rescue insurance policy. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this if they didn’t have that policy,” Madison said. “I’m probably the only one who has ever used it.”

Global Rescue coordinated communication with doctors in Italy, local cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Martin, and Forrest General Hospital, who agreed to oversee Madison’s care back at home. Global Rescue also has its own team of doctors at Johns Hopkins who determine whether it’s safe for the patient to fly. “That’s why I had to ride in an air ambulance,” Madison explained, “so I could have full cardiac monitoring available.” A healthcare worker flew with her from Italy to Mississippi. Another healthcare professional joined them during their stop in Canada. They also flew a less indirect route home so the plane would be over land as much as possible in case they had to make an emergency landing. The flight took them over Iceland and into Canada, which only left four hours over open water.

Thornton feels like this experience has really opened her eyes, not just as a doctoral student, but as a regular person. “I’ve never really been the patient,” she said. “I’ve always been more on the other side of it. When Registration came in all the numbers in my health history were outdated because nothing ever happens to me.”

Thornton said after seeing some of the things that happened to her in Italy, like not having a translator, when she’s a doctor, she doesn’t care how long it takes to get a translator on the phone. “It’s what patients deserve. Everybody has a right to know what’s going on with their own healthcare,” she said. “I feel there should be an international standard for that. I was really surprised with the technology we have, cell phones, computers, and Zoom, they could have run the paperwork through Google Translate.”

Something else that was lost in translation occurred when Thornton was in the ambulance being transported to the airport for her flight out. The ambulance people also didn’t speak any English, but they did use Google Translate. “They told me, ‘You are hot!’ I thought they were hitting on me. But I really just had a fever,” she laughed.

Thornton was welcomed back home by Forrest General’s Emergency Room staff when she made her way through the ER doors on July 12 on her way to a room. “When Dr. Martin came in Tuesday night about 10:30 p.m., he sat down on my bed and explained what he thought was going on with me,” she said, with hopes of being discharged on Thursday. Since then, more testing has occurred and a plan of action for moving forward is in place, including wearing a life vest, which is like an external defibrillator. “That will be fun to deal with, but all things considered, I’m very lucky.”

“I think of Dr. Martin as like the perfect example of what a good doctor is, with excellent bedside manner. It’s something I hope to have when I’m a doctor.” Thornton is unsure which doctoral path she’d like to pursue. Right now she’s just taking things one day at a time. However, cardiology has crossed her mind in the last few days. It wasn’t until she was a student at Ole Miss that she decided to go into medicine “Getting that direct medical exposure here in the Forrest General ER was pivotal in my decision to go into medical school,” she said. “When I was wheeled in last night it was kind of a full-circle moment.”

Thornton and her family are amazed at how the community has reached out and come forward in such a crazy way. She’s even gotten messages of support from Forrest General Spirit Girls who she worked alongside for four years. “I have received a lot of great messages from them throughout this experience saying they were praying for me,” she said. “The amount of support I’ve gotten, the prayers, the blessings… I’ve gotten messages from people I don’t know who say they are praying for me. I can feel those prayers. It’s been amazing.”

About Forrest General’s Cardiac Services

Forrest General’s Heart and Vascular Services delivers expert care from board-certified cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and vascular surgeons. Services range from diagnostic testing, heart surgery and structural heart treatment to interventional cardiology, cardiac rehabilitation and vascular treatment. For more information, visit www.forrestgeneral.com/heart.

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