TARPON SPRINGS — Ann Nixon had a slight headache when she awoke one morning last year. She took two aspirin and thought nothing of it.
But a few hours later, her neck began to ache and she had trouble breathing. Her husband dialed 911 and she was rushed to Helen Ellis Hospital.
"They determined I needed to see a neurosurgeon and immediately sent me to Tampa General Hospital by air," said Nixon, 65. "The quick diagnosis at Helen Ellis likely saved my life."
Nixon got another gift from the hospital a few weeks ago: a new car.
Nixon and her husband, Frank, have lived in Tarpon Springs for 35 years and have been longtime supporters of the 168-bed hospital.
But she wasn't able to attend the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital Foundation's Oct. 3 charitable gala at Innisbrook Resort.
"So I decided to purchase four raffle tickets at $100 each," Nixon said. "I did it mainly to support the hospital. You never think that you will win. You do it to support the hospital."
Nixon did win. Last week, she picked her prize: a $23,000 yellow-and-black Mini Cooper.
She had to pay the taxes. And the Nixons upgraded to a Mini Cooper with a retractable roof.
"It's darling," she said with a laugh. "It looks like a bumblebee. It's not often that they save your life one year and give you a car the next."
Frank Nixon, 66, was just as surprised they had the winning ticket. "You can take more, but you probably won't win it," he remembers saying about the four tickets. "I was kind of wrong."
About 400 tickets were sold, and the Nixons could choose the Mini Cooper or put the $23,000 toward a new BMW.
In a matter of hours on that morning last year, Feb. 28, Ann Nixon went from having a headache to passing out in an ambulance on the way to Helen Ellis Hospital. After they quickly diagnosed her with a brain hemorrhage, doctors immediately sent Nixon to Tampa General Hospital in a helicopter.
For about week, she was in an induced coma while a small tube drained the blood away from her brain. She remained in the hospital for about 20 days.
"It was really unique that it came full circle," said Terry Smither, the executive director of Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital Foundation. "They knew the hospital was here and when they needed it, we were there.
"And the fact that a local couple who has been in Tarpon Springs for years won the car … it's just a nice experience."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.