Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP™ to the Rescue
It was a scene straight out of that old campy commercial from the 1980’s. Hoping to relieve her back pain, Ruth Triebwasser went to sleep on a recliner instead of her bed. Sometime during the night, she slid off the chair and could not get up.
In the original television ad for a medical alarm bracelet company, the actress playing the elderly woman who falls, uttered the now famous catchphrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” A friendly dispatcher immediately assured her help was on the way. But in real life things are more complicated. And on that day, of all days, she can’t remember why, but Triebwasser wasn’t wearing her medical alert bracelet. “I wear it always. That night I didn’t have it on.”
The frail, elderly Miami Gardens resident would spend nearly 24 hours on the cold tile floor before firefighters broke in to rescue her, and there is no telling how much longer she would have lain there, or if she’d even be alive today were it not for the NeighborhoodHELP™ (Health Education Learning Program) team.
“We knocked on the door and we didn’t get an answer,” said Faisal Rahim, a second year medical student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Rahim is one of the members of an interprofessional team that visits Triebwasser once a month as part of the Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP™, a key component of the College of Medicine curriculum.
Throughout their education, these teams of FIU students are sent into South Florida communities to track and monitor the health of uninsured and under-insured families. Each team includes a medical student and his or her counterpart in social work, nursing, public health, and law students.* “This program requires real involvement with real families with real problems,” said Dr. Joe Greer, NeighborhoodHELP’s director. “It’s all about giving students a real-life education.”
And on the afternoon of December 6th, Rahim and his teammates, nursing student Leonee Thomas and social work student Danny Tobon, had just knocked on Mrs. Triebwasser’s “classroom” door. The budding healthcare workers were about to learn an important lesson in trusting their instincts.
After repeatedly knocking and calling on the phone without response, the team moved on, but the students felt something wasn’t right. Concerned, they called Dr. Christine McFarlin, the medical director for NeighborhoodHELP™. Dr. McFarlin called the safety officer who follows the teams on their rounds. Officer Roberto Leal went back to Triebwasser’s apartment and this time heard a faint sound coming from the bedroom. He called 911.
Amazingly none the worse for wear, Triebwasser had no broken bones or lacerations and refused to go to the hospital. A team outreach worker checked in on her the next day, but then that second night, she fell again, and again spent hours on the floor before neighbors found her. Rahim and Dr. McFarlin paid Triebwasser another visit. “We were there at least an hour trying to convince her she needed to go to the hospital to be checked out for possible dehydration and avoid kidney problems,” said Dr. McFarlin.
After 5 days in the hospital, Triebwasser is happy and grateful to be back home. “You saved my life,” she has said repeatedly to both Rahim, the medical student, and Dr. McFarlin; both of whom are glad to see their patient is now wearing her medical alert bracelet tightly around her arm.
*Teams include a faculty member from either the College of Medicine or the School of Nursing. In this case students were accompanied by nursing Professor Arturo Gonzalez.