In January, when Heather and Marcus Leggo realized that RV dwellers were not welcome in Lompoc, they moved to Santa Barbara to participate in New Beginnings Safe Parking program. It was a particularly timely move because, as Heather Leggo’s liver was failing from the combined effects of Lupus and past alcohol abuse, she needed to be close to Cottage Hospital. Doctors there had just implanted a stent to divert blood from the diseased organ and keep her alive.
Two weeks after arriving here, though, the couple encountered another roadblock. At The Santa Barbara County Public Health Clinic Urgent Care Center, where Leggo went for help with uncontrollable edema (or swelling) in her legs, she was informed the soonest appointment she could get with a primary care physician was June 7th, a whopping 13-week wait. That appointment was the first crucial step towards seeing a liver specialist.
“I cried and cried and begged the woman [for an earlier appointment],” Leggo recalled. “And I said I was dying.” But the answer again came back, that was the soonest she could be seen. Shortly after Leggo’s tearful appeal, a second nurse intervened and managed to move the appointment forward to May 6th, a 9-week wait.
Leggo was grateful, but still wondered if she’d last that long.
Meanwhile, seeing Heather Leggo’s health deteriorate, Safe Parking case manager Nancy Kapp contacted The Santa Barbara Independent on Wednesday April 28 wanting clarification on the clinic’s policies for expedited appointments. The Independent contacted The Public Health Department and spoke to Public Information Officer Susan Klein-Rothschild. Klein-Rothschild made some calls and, without discussing specifics due to privacy laws, explained that the onus was on clients to complain up the chain of command when they were not receiving adequate service or care.
Rothschild then passed on the names and telephone numbers of the managers of the main public health clinic in Santa Barbara and the Eastside public health clinic on Montecito Street.
After speaking with the manager of the Santa Barbara Clinic, on Camino Del Remedio, Leggo was given an appointment for the very next day, Friday, April 30th.
At that appointment, she received help and input from two clinic physicians, who spent over two hours with her. Leggo’s medications were adjusted. She received a prescription for a new wheelchair and a Department of Motor Vehicles Handicap Placard, an appointment with a liver specialist, and a follow-up appointment with the primary care doc.
Now under the care of a physician, Heather Leggo’s health is being tended to. But the couple still faces daunting challenges. Living in an RV that sometimes starts and sometimes doesn’t, they wake up just after 5 a.m. every morning to leave the commuter lot they’ve been permitted to park in nightly, only to return at 7:30 p.m. in the evening. With Heather Leggo’s health so precarious, Marcus Leggo needs to be with her all the time and is thus unable to look for work. The couple is existing on the 900-odd dollars Social Security Disability provides Heather for her Lupus—a chronic, debilitating autoimmune condition that attacks soft tissue. They need a place to live.
Heather Leggo refuses to feel sorry for herself and doesn’t want anybody else to either. She knows full well that if it weren’t for her years of drinking, she wouldn’t be where she is today, struggling to walk, to keep food down, and to accomplish the simplest of chores. Unlike the stereotypical recovering alcoholic (and she has been sober for six months) Heather Leggo takes responsibility.
If only that strength of character could somehow secure her the new liver she needs to survive, and the affordable place to live she and Marcus need to get out of their RV.
“I want absolutely no one to feel sorry for me and my liver [situation],” Heather said on Saturday outside the laundromat she and Marcus were using. Even though the Lupus contributed significantly to her liver disease, “Had I not drank, I would not be sitting here today, and this is my own fault,” she said.
On Sunday afternoon, May 2, another spectacularly lovely, albeit windy, Santa Barbara day, parked on Cabrillo Boulevard for the afternoon, the Leggos were talking about how life was going to improve when and if Heather obtained a liver transplant. She will have energy again and Marcus can get work. Just then, Marcus alerted his wife to the family of dolphins that were swimming up the coast, jumping out of the water, and giving a free show. It was an auspicious sign.