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Throop Resident Calls Vaccination Visit a Lifesaver


Linda of Throop

Linda Marhelski landed in Wright place at right time to have dangerously high blood pressure detected

Linda Marhelski’s mad scramble to get vaccinated against COVID-19 led her to The Wright Center for Community Health, a twist of fate that she credits with saving her life.

The Throop resident arrived at our Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn, eager for the newly released coronavirus vaccine that would offer protection to herself and her family, especially her husband, whose recent bout of pneumonia had both of them worried. Linda’s head had been bothering her lately; she chalked it up to tension. Pandemic stress perhaps.

But as Linda sat in the exam room in mid-March – and her vital signs were taken prior to the highly anticipated shot – a practitioner called out her blood pressure reading: an alarmingly high “212 over 97.”

A blood pressure level in that category signals “hypertensive crisis” and indicates a patient should immediately connect with a doctor to evaluate the situation before it leads to a medical emergency such as a stroke.

“If I had gone for the vaccine someplace else, where they didn’t take my blood pressure, and then just been out walking around,” she says, “I could be dead today.”

That sobering realization didn’t fully hit Linda until later. A first-time Wright Center patient, she had not been in the habit of routinely visiting her doctor’s office or self-monitoring her blood pressure. So when she heard the number 212, it didn’t register as being a warning sign. (Her hypertension had previously been diagnosed, but she had been taking medication for it and believed it was under control.)

On the day her issue was detected at The Wright Center’s exam room, Linda was closely monitored until her pressure decreased. She was able to receive the COVID vaccine. And she says that she departed with a prescription for a second blood pressure-lowering medication, instructions to take the first pill ASAP and guidance to follow up quickly with her own family physician.

It soon became clear to Linda that her condition, if left untreated, could have resulted in a disabling condition or even a fatal heart attack or stroke. When she returned to The Wright Center a few weeks later to receive her second dose of the vaccine, she couldn’t contain her gratitude. She told the care team, “You saved my life!”

Her thanks and relief were compounded when she got the second shot, experiencing only a sore arm while boosting her immunity against the COVID-19 virus. Until then, the pandemic had been particularly nerve-wracking for Linda and her husband, Walter Marhelski, a Vietnam War veteran.   

Walter copes with heart and lung issues that he attributes to chemical exposure while serving overseas. The Old Forge native developed pneumonia and landed in an area hospital in January 2020. Only weeks later, as the coronavirus outbreak began in Northeast Pennsylvania, he was advised to get out of the rehabilitation center and to stay home to avoid any possibility of infection. “They said if he got the virus, he would not make it,” Linda recalls.

The couple took the health warnings seriously and hunkered down, following safety guidance on hand washing, sanitizing, masking and social distancing. “She wouldn’t let the mailman come within 30 feet of the mailbox,” Walter says, laughing.

Mindful of her husband’s vulnerability, Linda did all she could in those early days to protect him. Each time she shopped for groceries, she would return home, shower and put on clean clothes. “I was even wiping off the mail and everything,” she says. “We were scared.”

By year’s end, as the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines became available, Linda and Walter were ready to roll up their sleeves. “We couldn’t wait to get the shot,” she says.

But early demand for the vaccines made it seemingly impossible for them to make an appointment. Walter ultimately received the vaccine through the VA Medical Center. In attempts to get Linda vaccinated too, he made phone calls and visited websites for an exhaustive list of places: multiple chain and independent pharmacies, the region’s 2-1-1 call center and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No luck; she got no further than waiting lists.

Finally, the couple learned that vaccines were available at The Wright Center. “After I called,” says Linda, “I didn’t have to wait long before my appointment. It was quick.”

For most of Linda’s adult life, the former Inn at Nichols Village employee took care of the people closest to her, including children and grandchildren, without paying too much attention to her own health. Her timely visit to The Wright Center was a wake-up call.

Now Linda routinely checks her blood pressure at home, she says. She has an appointment on her calendar to again see her physician. And she knows that if she experiences any unusual symptoms or has concerns, the instructions from her doctor’s office are clear: Please call us. Don’t wait.

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