Carrie Savage knows well the fear and panic that comes with being told that you need major surgery when you have no insurance and no resources to pay for it. And she also knows the critical lifeline that a special program for uninsured, low-income residents called Project CARE can provide in times of such great need.

Carrie's story began about two years ago. Divorced and working both a full-time and a part-time job as a floral designer, she was making ends meet but seeing little prospect for growth in the future. She decided it was time for a change.

She quit her full-time job and enrolled at ODU to finish work for her degree in Art Education. She could work part-time and attend class. She gave up her health insurance, which wasn't available to part-time employees. She knew there was some risk, but she was young and healthy. Or so she thought. Carrie's life was about to change again -- but in a way she never expected.

A routine visit to her primary care doctor prompted by swelling around her left eye led to a series of referrals, CT scans, and eventually to Dr. William McAllister of Hampton Roads Neurosurgical and Spine Center who gave her some frightening news. She had a tumor that had to be removed.

"I told Dr. McAllister I had no health insurance and no way to pay for the surgery," Carrie said. "And that's when he told me about Project CARE." After going through a few application steps, she qualified for the program. Project CARE provided support for all of Carrie's medical needs through the surgery and beyond.

"I don't know what I would have done without Project CARE. It's the most remarkable program. Everyone involved is caring, professional, and giving of their time," she said. "I have to give speical thanks to Dr. McAllister and to Dr. Diane Maddela of Women's Healthcare Associates who helped me through a second, unrelated surgery. They are the best doctors I've ever had."

The surgery was successful. The follow-up CT scan showed that the entire tumor was gone, and subsequent scans have showed no sign of its coming back. Carrie is back in class now, looking forward to getting her degree and beginning her teaching career. Life for her is good now, she says, thanks to Project CARE. "Without their help, what would have happened to me? I didn't know such kind, caring, devoted people existed. They truly gave me my life back."

About Project CARE
Project CARE is a network of the Greater Virginia Peninsula's safety net clinics, local hospital systems, and private primary and specialty medical providers who donate their services to care for the uninsured residents of our area that have incomes no greater than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Launched in 2008 with principal funding support from the Riverside Health System Foundation, the program now includes 10 primary care safety net clinics, all three regional hospital systems, and more than 200 specialty provider volunteers.