NC EMT needs heart transplant
After suffering a heart attack in June, EMT Angel Cureton, 43, is facing the decision of having a heart transplant or living off a machine for the next several years
Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.
Angel Cureton knows medical issues can change a person's life in an instant, she just didn't expect it to happen to her at 43 years old.
The Shelby EMT's life changed after suffering a massive heart attack in June. Since then Cureton has been in and out of surgery to repair the damage, now she is facing the decision of having a heart transplant or living off a machine for the next several years.
"Just a few weeks before I was getting up and going about. In a blink of an eye, everything changed," she said.
World turned upside down
June 15 started like any other morning for Angel and her husband, Ricky Cureton. She got up around 7 a.m. to get ready for the day, but as she was getting ready Ricky noticed she looked off. She had experienced an arterial heart spasm eight years before this, but since then Angel had been fine.
"She took a nitro and sat down on the floor in our bathroom," he said.
After that episode, Angel decided to continue to work.
"I went to work and got there around 7:45. I just didn't feel right," she said.
Her fellow EMTs put her on a heart monitor to make sure she was OK. At first, nothing abnormal showed up, but they kept monitoring to be sure and called Ricky to come pick her up.
"By the time they got the stretcher to her office, she could barely walk," he said.
Angel Cureton was packed into an ambulance and rushed to Atrium Health-Cleveland in Shelby.
"We went to the hospital, and it was a blur from there," she said.
"They put her on nitro drip and couldn't get relief. She started having a lot more pain," Ricky said.
Angels condition was deteriorating, and she needed more help than could be done in Shelby. She was flown do Charlotte for a double bypass.
During all of this, Angel was vaguely aware of what was going on. She began hearing codes and words she used in the past on patients. What she heard wasn't reassuring.
While most people don't understand the codes they hear as doctor's work on them, she knew that she was having a heart attack that it was causing major damage.
"It's a little scarier," she said.
Doctors with the catheterization laboratory in Charlotte were able to get Angel into surgery quickly.
"By the time I got there she was coming out of surgery. The doctor said she is doing alright but said he didn't like some of the things he saw," said Ricky.
The next few days were filled with ups and downs as Angel tried to recover but one night in the ICU her conditions went downhill. She was taken back to surgery for a double by-pass. She began to make improvements after that, her husband said.
The improvements were enough that the couple was given the all-clear to head to a beach family trip that was planned months ahead of time. They packed their bags and headed south to meet up with their kids and other family members.
"We got there and she did good the whole ride," Ricky said.
But things took a turn, and Angel was transported back to Charlotte.
There, doctors discovered the double bypass had failed, and her heart was not circulating blood properly. After another round of tests and medication, the Curetons were sent back home. But Angel needs a heart transplant or left ventricular assist device that would keep her heart pumping.
Paying the bills
As the couple worked on keeping Angel alive, the medical bills began to pile up and neither of them has medical insurance.
"The helicopter ride is $36,000. The open heart surgery is $150,000 and that was just one surgery," Ricky said.
The two are working to get her on disability, but the process has been anything but easy. With his wife's income gone and their saving dwindling, they have received support from some community members and friends.
Family friends also organized a fundraiser with Lafayette Street Grill in Shelby today. The restaurant will be giving 10 percent of all sales on Friday to the family to help pay the medical bills. There will also be t-shirts for sale and live music by OLM & N-Repair.
"If she is well enough, Angel will be out there," Ricky said.
One last hospital visit
Two weeks ago, while on a telemedicine call, the doctor noticed the Angel was not looking well and suggested she get to the hospital immediately. One of the surgeries needed to happen now or she would die.
But without insurance, the two were fighting a battle to get any surgery approved.
"The doctors basically said we are not going to let this woman just sit here and die," Angel said.
She received the left ventricular assist device and has been feeling better with each passing day.
"I have to brag on the doctors in Charlotte. They have been amazing. If it was not for them, I would not be here today," she said.
She may be on the mend, but there are still many battles ahead. The device she has in place now can last for years, but doctors are still recommending a heart transplant. With O negative blood, it will be difficult for her to find a match, so no decisions have been made yet.
©2020 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.