SAFD paramedics help paraplegic mom get her home, life back

Without SAFD's MIH program, Mindy Silvestre would have been lost

SAN ANTONIO – A problem surrounding Mindy Silvestre's spinal surgery left her paralyzed, and she lost almost everything. She said if it wasn't for a pair of San Antonio paramedics, her life would still be in shambles.

"I needed to have a laminectomy. Unfortunately, there was a mishap and I became paraplegic. Within months, I had a stroke. I was in a coma. I was hospitalized for almost three months. I was in a nursing home for two months," Silvestre said.

The single mother had to quit working and was forced to give up her home.

"I was basically homeless. It was very difficult just thinking (about) my loved ones. Who's going to take care of my son? My dad — how he's going to manage? You know, bills," she said, sounding overwhelmed.

A trip to the hospital for kidney issues changed everything.

"Some angels came to my rescue," Silvestre said with a smile.

The ambulance paramedic was Michael A. Dixon, a member of the San Antonio Fire Department's nationally respected Mobile Integrated Health, or MIH, team. The MIH program takes extra steps to link people who are chronically ill or who make frequent visits to the emergency room with much-needed resources.

Many of the people the program assists are high-volume 911 callers. Leading those people to the services they need not only stops them from having to dial 911 for non-emergencies, but it helps them achieve independence.

"Some people just don't know where to turn for outside resources, so that's kind of where we come in. There's a lot of different avenues out there that people are not aware of," Dixon said.

Dixon made Silvestre aware of those avenues.

"Mindy was never a high caller of 911. On the way to the hospital, she told me about her story. On the way, I understood she didn't have the proper insurance in place, so my role in helping her was really to get the hospital case manager involved so, that way, they could look into additional services that she would need at home," Dixon said.

Almost immediately, Silvestre began receiving services to which she was entitled, but the help didn't stop there.

Dixon and fellow San Antonio Fire Department MIH paramedic Brian Harkins continued visiting Silvestre for the next year at family members' homes, none of which had handicapped-accessible showers.

"The tipping point for me was the day it was in the 40s outside and she was going out onto the back porch to shower," Harkins said. "It broke my heart."

With the help of Gordon Hartman, from Morgan's Wonderland, and several housing organizations, Harkins found Silvestre a new apartment.

"It opened the doors. Then things began to snowball pretty quickly, and she's in this awesome apartment. It's a two-bedroom apartment that San Antonio Alternative Housing, they're going to help her with the rent for a while," Harkins said.

In her new apartment, an automatic lift helps Silvestre get in and out of bed and the bathroom has plenty of equipment and space to help her maneuver and bathe in an actual shower.

"Whew! It's incredible," Silvestre said.

Despite all the hardships, she still finds countless things to be thankful for.

"It's incredible the lives she's touched, even in the midst of her circumstances. So it's an awesome thing to be a part of," Harkins said.

Silvestre still has not been told the cause of her paralysis. She has contacted attorneys about the surgery and plans to file a lawsuit.

She has only been living in her new place for about two months, and Dixon and Harkins still check in on her and her family.

"They're here to help, and they're very loyal. They come to you with their heart open trying to help because they know there's help out there. They hear your story. They try to look at your situation, and try to look for the means, find the resources," she said.

Many large cities around the nation are trying to mirror San Antonio's MIH program because of its rare fusion of social and medical care. Harkins is the least experienced member of the team, and he's been with the San Antonio Fire Department for 11 years.

"You have a group of experienced medics that have been on the (emergency medical services) unit for a significant time (that) have now come over to the MIH program and get a chance to reach out. Sometimes our fire stations out in the field will call our team and let us know of needs out in the community that are sometimes simple fixes if you know where to go, and we'll fill those gaps," Harkins said.

MIH works with patients with a range of issues including homelessness, substance abuse, physical disabilities, lack of family to help with medical care as well as chronic patients who have difficulty navigating the health system.

To contact the San Antonio Fire Department’s MIH program, click here


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