Lakeland woman’s fight for survival

has been a long, hard road.

Bonnie Carter is a singer, music teacher and a bit of a computer nerd. She and her husband lived a wonderful life together until it was interrupted about six years ago.

Bonnie’s husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and much of their joy was replaced with doctors, hospital visits and extended pain and suffering.

During this time, Bonnie developed neuropathy in her hands due to overuse and chronic diabetes. Her neuropathy quickly worsened and became so much of an impairment that she was not able to work.

Two years after his diagnoses, Bonnie’s husband lost his battle with cancer.

No preparations were made for his death and Bonnie was left with a pile of medical bills and a mortgage she couldn’t pay. She lost her home, her health insurance and everything she owned.

With her health insurance gone, Bonnie no longer had access to the medications she needed to control her diabetes or ease her neuropathy. But her friends and family heard about the free health services United Way of Central Florida offered thanks to a partnership with Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine.

As her loved ones accompanied her to her first appointment, Bonnie could tell she was in good hands.

“I immediately felt like I found a place where my health was important to everyone involved in my care,” Bonnie said. “I felt LVIM was committed to taking care of me, and others, too.”

When Bonnie arrived at LVIM, she was taking 12 prescription medications a day for high blood pressure, diabetes, high triglycerides and cholesterol. She was 50 pounds heavier than she is now and had already experienced a small stroke.

Bonnie’s primary care provider, Emma McMicken, encouraged her to work on getting healthier. So Bonnie set a goal to change her diet and swim every day.

Her treatment and lifestyle changes were working. Bonnie’s prescription medication dosages were lowered and some eliminated altogether. Feeling better than she had in a long time, Bonnie was excited to continue her health journey.

But in January of 2016, Bonnie noticed that she wasn’t feeling right. No matter how much rest or exercise she got, no matter how much she ate, she just did not feel right.

Emma ran several tests over the next few months and, in April, Bonnie was sent to the emergency room with a fever of 104.8 degrees. E. coli from the swimming pool Bonnie frequented invaded her system, causing her veins to collapse and her kidneys to shut down. It took her five weeks to fully recover.

Believing the worst to be over, Bonnie started to feel like her self again.

Unfortunately, results came in from an ultrasound done months ago when she first went in for testing. It showed some small tumors and a biopsy was ordered. Emma called Bonnie personally to deliver the hard news. The tumors were positive for cancer.

But Bonnie saw the bright side.

“The E. coli may have killed me and, if I had survived that, my cancer would have gone undiagnosed,” Bonnie said. “LVIM saved my life. Twice.”

Bonnie received treatment at no cost to her and, as of January 2018, is cancer-free.

“If it weren’t for LVIM, I would not be standing here today,” Bonnie said. “This is just one story from the 17 years LVIM has been caring for people like me. Without your help and support, we would have nowhere else to turn. Your support makes this possible.”