BROOKSVILLE — The epileptic seizures come in waves of two or three at a time, probably about five times a week for the past few years. Victoria Holbrook has come to an uneasy peace with them.
But fearful of falling into more medical debt, Holbrook has given her 19-year-old daughter some unusual instructions for those times when she suffers through a seizure fit.
"My family is not allowed to call an ambulance for me," Holbrook said Tuesday. "But if I have more than two or three (seizures), then it's okay. These things come and go, you know?"
Hoping to bring relief to folks like Holbrook, the "Help is Here Express" bus made a two-hour swing through Brooksville on Tuesday. The bus tour is part an effort to help uninsured and low-income residents learn about dozens of programs that provide prescription medicines for free or at a reduced rate.
The nationwide venture is sponsored by the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), which is composed of pharmaceutical firms, health care providers and a number of civic groups. The organization boasts of helping nearly 5-million people across the country get the medicines they need, including 350,000 in Florida.
"We keep looking at the map and finding places that we haven't been," said Mark Grayson, a spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "We can only service so many people. We can't get them all on the bus."
On Tuesday, dozens of Hernando residents lined up for the bus in the parking lot of the Nature Coast Community Health Clinic at 300 South Main St. They were greeted by U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, who stuck around for 30 minutes to talk with people about the importance of seeking aid for their chronic ailments.
"I wish I could stand on the roof of this building and scream, 'Please don't not get health care because you don't have insurance,'' she said from her office later in the day. "There are providers out there. We have the availability of some great programs."
The bus was a salvation for Sharon Tinus of Spring Hill, who came with her niece, Kim Bloomer, to find a way to handle the costs of seven medications that have her and her husband on the edge of losing their home. Tinus, who has diabetes and high blood pressure among other ailments, estimates she might save $500 to $700 a month with help from the PPA.
Tinus said she has been unable to work since injuring herself in 2004, and her husband recently returned to work as a truck driver after an injury. Without health insurance, Tinus has slowly slumped into debt.
Often, when money is tight, Tinus has chosen to go without some of her medicines. "This," Tinus said, gesturing to volunteers inside the bus, "has been the answer to my prayers."
Holbrook, who has struggled with epilepsy and depression, also left the bus with a renewed sense of hope. If she can get a handle on her seizures, Holbrook said she would someday like to resume work as a nurse.
"People need the information to get help," Holbrook said. "I'm lucky because, at the least, I'm getting a chance to get better."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.
According to an October 2007 report from the Milken Institute, more than 10-million cases of seven common chronic diseases were reported in Florida in 2003. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance's mission is to help those suffering from chronic diseases get access to the medicines they need, thus reducing some of the burden for caregivers. The study found these reported cases:
Heart disease: 1.38-million
Mental disorders: 2.18-million
Pulmonary conditions: 2.62-million