Fresno treats English patient's kin like royals

Marina Hambly was a continent away from her London home, vacationing with her family at Yosemite National Park, when her husband had a massive stroke. While he recovered in a Fresno hospital, people took extraordinary steps to give Hambly and her 11-month-old daughter a home away from home.

As a medical helicopter flew Patrick Hoare, 48, to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno on July 11, Hambly thought only of the emergency care her husband needed.

But she needed help, too.

Hambly had no idea where she and 11-month-old daughter Lily could stay -- or who she could turn to for help.

Community Medical Centers is building Terry's House at Fresno and R streets, a place for out-of-town families to stay while visiting critically injured or sick loved ones. But the two-story home won't be ready until November.

Typically, people are able to depend on friends or family to offer lodging or other aid, and sometimes hospital social workers are called on to help them. But Hambly had no one. So the staff rallied to support her and her baby.

Dr. Tanya Warwick, medical director for the hospital's stroke program, was the neurologist on call when Hoare arrived in Community's emergency department. Warwick learned her English patient's wife was stranded in Fresno with a baby. She invited the distraught Hambly and Lily to stay at her Fresno home.

Warwick had never brought someone from the hospital home before. But she related to Hambly's problem. A few years ago, she spent days in Los Angeles with a sick daughter. She didn't know anyone there. "But there were people in Los Angeles who were very kind," she said.

Hambly and Hoare are emergency medical technicians in London, which gave Community staff yet another reason to support them. Members of the hospital's trauma program staff jumped in to help out. They heard Hambly couldn't visit Hoare in intensive care because she had no one to care for Lily. They spread a blanket in their office, brought in toys and offered to baby-sit the pink-cheeked baby.

"We're all moms," said Nancy Valdovinos, a Community trauma registrar -- and Lily's chief baby-sitter. It also helped that Lily is "an adorable baby," she said.

Before long, nurses recruited teenage daughters and nieces to join the baby-sitting brigade. The British Consulate in San Francisco sent people. Helping Hambly became a hospitalwide effort, Warwick said.

"People were coming to my home and dropping off toys and baby equipment," she said. On the first night, Warwick stopped at a store to buy a crib, blankets and sheets.

Hambly, 43, was stunned by it all.

"I told the doctor, "Oh, maybe if I could just stay for one night, that would be lovely,' " she said.

Now more than two weeks later, Hambly and Lily are still at Warwick's house -- and Hambly is baby-sitting the doctor's three cats while she's away on vacation.

"People who didn't know me have become really good friends and really good family," Hambly said.

The couple's vacation in the United States, the last month of a year's maternity leave, had taken them to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon before arriving in Yosemite -- "It was breathtaking," Hambly said. From there, they had planned to spend a few days in Santa Barbara and Monterey before flying back to London on July 20.

They had spent a day taking pictures of Yosemite before Hoare's collapse inside their room at Tenaya Lodge.

With news of Hoare's stroke, Lily's godparents from England came to Fresno briefly but had to return home. They offered to take Lily back with them. But Hoare "lights up" when he sees his daughter, Hambly said. And, she said, "I know it's a nuisance for everyone else, but she keeps me sane."

Warwick said Hambly and Lily are welcome to stay at her home until Hoare is well enough to fly 11-plus hours back to London. He could be discharged from the hospital in the next week or two, she said.

Hoare's stroke was catastrophic, injuring the left side of his brain, which controls the right side of his body. Hambly was told he had a 50/50 chance of living. And she was prepared for him to be in a vegetative state if he survived.

Doctors don't know what caused the stroke, but Hoare has made a miraculous recovery, Warwick said.

Hambly said she isn't sure Hoare would have received the same level of care in London. And she's convinced she wouldn't have been treated as well. Nurses at Community "brought me sodas and food," she said. "They brought presents and toys and clothes in for Lily."

A co-worker who is a London paramedic has come to Fresno to help her with Lily, Hambly said. He can stay until Aug. 8 and is at a Fresno motel -- although he's been offered a place in the home of Lynn Bennink, trauma program director.

With Hoare's improvement, Hambly said she's now thinking about the cost of the hospital stay. "Everyone says America's care is so expensive," she said. She's not sure how much of the bill the British national insurance service will cover. But for now, she said, "he's alive and that's all I'm worried about."

Hoare's speech has been affected, but on Monday, he made a flying motion with his hand to show he was ready to go home. Gesturing at pictures of Lily taped to the wall, his eyes flashed and he grinned.

Hambly said she doesn't know how to thank everybody in Fresno and at Community. The stroke Hoare suffered was horrendous, she said. "But if it was going to happen, it's lucky it happened here. It's made a horrible time bearable."