Helping a Hero

The curtains are drawn. Images from a television flicker in the background as James Fenwick carefully eases back on his living room couch. A faint hissing noise flows from the nasal cannula feeding oxygen to his tired lungs.

All around are framed photos and other mementos from James’ 25-year career with the U.S. Navy during which he became a master diver. He loved the physically and mentally demanding job and excelled at it, but it may have compromised his health.

At age 76, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease are crosses he bears daily.

Registered nurse Krysta Roseberry, a case manager for Sun Health’s Care Transitions (SHCT) program, met James and his wife, Laverne, after James was discharged from Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for anemia and internal bleeding. The SHCT program helps recently discharged hospital patients recover more fully and avoid re-hospitalization.

Krysta spent almost two hours with the Fenwicks, reviewing James’ discharge plan and medications, providing tips for a successful recovery and answering questions. She gave the couple a binder that contained relevant health information, including warning signs to be on the lookout for and other resources to promote recovery.

“I felt better knowing that the care went beyond the hospital,” James said, speaking about the program, provided at no cost to qualified patients thanks to Sun Health Foundation donors.

“It built up my confidence,” James said of the visit, which was followed by weekly check-up phone calls from licensed practical nurses from the SHCT program.

Krysta has been a nurse for more than 40 years and enjoys learning about her patient’s lives. James’ story moved her.

She learned he was the second African American in U.S. Navy history to achieve the prestigious “master diver” designation, something that only two to four percent of Navy divers ever achieve. He told her how he had been all over the world salvaging wrecks, building underwater infrastructure and performing search and rescue operations for the Navy, tasks that are exponentially riskier when done under water.

“We were like firefighters on the sea,” James said.

The first African American to achieve master diver status was Carl Brashear, with whom James served. Brashear’s story was the subject of the 2000 movie “Men of Honor,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro. James proudly displays a photo of himself, Laverne and De Niro, taken at the film’s premiere.

James retired from the Navy in the early 90s as a lieutenant and went to work as an engineer for the Naval Sea Systems Command for the U.S. Government. It was there that health problems began to emerge. He retired from his civilian job at age 62.

The Fenwicks moved to Sun City Grand from Virginia in 2007 for the warmer weather, more-breathable air and because one of their five children lives in the area.

Despite his health challenges, James keeps a positive outlook. He’s proud of his service to his country and appreciative of the help he receives from his wife, Laverne, his main caregiver, and other health professionals, like the SHCT team members.

“I think it (Care Transitions) was a helpful tool and could benefit anyone who spends time in the hospital,” James said.

Sun Health Care Transitions is uniquely focused on providing patients and family caregivers with the skills, confidence, and tools they need to assert a more active role in their health care.