Lost Son Is Home, but Health Care Is a Struggle Last month, an NPR story led to a reunion between a homeless man in New Orleans and his family, who hadn't seen him for years. They feared he had died during Hurricane Katrina. Now Chris Turnbow is back home in Arkansas. He's adjusting fine, but he's having trouble getting a vital operation.
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Lost Son Is Home, but Health Care Is a Struggle

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Lost Son Is Home, but Health Care Is a Struggle

Lost Son Is Home, but Health Care Is a Struggle

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Last month on this program, we introduced you to a man in New Orleans who had become homeless after Hurricane Katrina. When the story ran, it was the first time in five years that Chris Turnbow's family, back in Arkansas, had heard from him. So just before Christmas, some of Turnbow's closest family drove to New Orleans to try to find him.

Mr. CHRIS TURNBOW (New Orleans Resident): What in the world are you all doing here?

Mr. DAVID TURNBOW (Chris' Son): We've looked hard and hard and hard for you. It's Christmas miracle, dad. We love you.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: I love you, guys.

Ms. JEAN AARON (Chris' Sister): I know, honey. I know. It's okay. It's okay, though. We got you. That's all that matters.

BLOCK: After their reunion, Chris Turnbow returned to Marion, Arkansas with his family.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro paid them a visit.

(Soundbite of people singing "Happy Birthday")

Unidentified Group: Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: On January 11, the day Chris Turnbow turned 53, Jean Aaron baked his favorite, a strawberry cake with pink frosting. Chris calls Jean his mother, she's really his sister. She raised them after their mother died when Jean was 16 and Chris was just two weeks old.

Ms. AARON: Happy birthday, Chris.

SHAPIRO: On the streets of New Orleans, other homeless people sometimes called him Old Man Chris because of his long white beard and graying hair. That's not what his mother calls him now.

Ms. AARON: What do you say, Young Man Chris?

SHAPIRO: Now, the beard is gone, his hair trimmed. He looks years younger.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: The most memorable birthday a man could ever have.

Ms. AARON: Happy birthday.

SHAPIRO: Chris is living, for now, in his son David's house, where he shares a room with his 11-year-old grandson. In the garage behind the house, David has built a gym.

Mr. D. TURNBOW: Oh, yeah. It's kind of like a little - our own little house of pain, I guess.

SHAPIRO: David works out with his father, Chris. In New Orleans, Chris was gaunt. In just three weeks since coming home, he says, he has put on 30 pounds.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: I come out three nights a week just trying to get my strength back, I'm losing 80 pounds next year. Incredibly weak.

SHAPIRO: Chris spent 16 days in a hospital in New Orleans last October. He had part of his intestine removed. He got a colostomy. Now, he needs another operation to reconnect his colon. He and his family thought when he came home to Arkansas, he'd get that surgery pretty quickly. But it's not so easy when you don't have health insurance.

Ms. TERESA TURNBOW (Chris' Daughter-in-law): It gets kind of discouraging. It's been hard, but we're determined.

SHAPIRO: Teresa Turnbow is Chris' daughter-in-law. On this day, she's just taken Chris to a state office to try to sign him up for Arkansas' Medicaid program, the health insurance for the poor and disabled. It's not clear whether Chris will even qualify for Medicaid.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: Everywhere we go, we hit a brick wall.

Ms. TURNBOW: We have hit a lot of walls. And I did get kind of upset, but I want his surgery. I want him fixed. That's what I thought I was coming here for.

SHAPIRO: In New Orleans, doctors, nurses and social workers helped Chris get free, charity care. And that's what he may need to find in Arkansas. He's optimistic.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: God just keeps sending people to me to help me and help me and help me. And I have faith that within the next month or two I'll be healed and ready to carry my life on. And I just feel like things will work out. They have to. Too much is going my way.

SHAPIRO: In New Orleans, when he was lying in a city park, too weak to move, feverish and in pain from perforated diverticulitis, an ambulance took him to a public hospital. When he got out, he went to a free health clinic, where he saw a psychiatrist, got his medications and colostomy pouches. Now, unless he finds help, he has to pay for those himself.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: These bags, what is it, 60 bucks for 10 of them? You know, that's not including 10 bucks for the glue and the medication that goes with it. My antibiotics, my pain medicine, my nerve pills - I have nothing. I can't work.

SHAPIRO: He wants to get well and work again. Before Hurricane Katrina, he took odd construction jobs doing carpentry, painting, laying floors. In the storm, his tools and truck were stolen, and he became homeless. Now, even safe with his family, he can't forget the people he lived with on the streets.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: I cry. I wake up many nights crying, worrying about those folks.

SHAPIRO: After his surgery in New Orleans, when he was discharged from the hospital, he had nowhere to sleep but a city park. Other homeless men and women cared for him.

Mr. C. TURNBOW: These people that society had marked as lowlifes, they would save their food and they would save their water to clean my incision. And I feel like I've abandoned them.

SHAPIRO: He knows that most of them are still living on the streets without a family to take them home.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

BLOCK: You can hear our original broadcast of how Chris Turnbow is reunited with his family at npr.org.

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