There is a soft, heartwarming face that frequents the halls of HealthFirst Family Care Center.
Well, let’s back up for a minute. There are MANY heartwarming faces but one that we are specifically focusing on here in this story.
This person and team member, he has a big presence but is humble. He’s a talker but somehow appears quiet; even a little bashful. He is generous and thoughtful to those in our community who are experiencing hardship. He is always making things easier, funnier, and more kind for our doctors, his fellow staff, and our patients.
Today, we are grateful to share the story of Charlie Douillette, who has been with HFFCC for ten years. He joined the HealthFirst family in 2010 at the age of 55. However, even before this he had worked with us at HFFC, albeit as a patient.
In 2002, Charlie and his family tragically lost a son-in-law and granddaughter due to a fire on Webster Lake Road in Franklin. As you can imagine, the depression and stress this caused created many issues for him and his family. They looked to HealthFirst for behavioral health support, resources, and guidance.
After serving in the military, working for Shaw’s Supermarket, and working through this deep period of grief, Charlie felt a strong desire to have more purpose in his everyday life and wanted to help others. He learned that, with a little training and work, he could become a Medical Assistant. “In 2010, my primary provider, Todd Smith, convinced me I could get an MA license and pursue my dream of helping people. In October of 2010, my wish came true to join HealthFirst. Little did I know at the time what more was to come,” Charlie told us. He was looking not back, but forward.
At that time in 2010, Charlie felt healthy and strong and was managing his diabetes. However, in late January of 2017, there were a few days where he was struggling with a cold and not feeling like himself. “I missed three days of work for the first time in my life,” he detailed. This begins the story of the day and moment in his life he will never forget. Charlie went to see Dr. Abeysinghe at HealthFirst and through a series of questions and answers about his breathing, fatigue, and cough, she decided that his issues were perhaps heart related. He complained of a having a stomachache, feeling tired and out of breath. After undergoing a comprehensive stress test, he was told that he would need an emergency bypass and that he wouldn’t be leaving that evening. “What do you mean I am not going home?” he said, “the Patriots are on and I have a pizza to eat and plans to watch the game with my family!”
This began a new and shocking health journey for Charlie. That evening, there were no beds available for him at Concord Hospital. “There isn’t a cardiology unit at LRGH, beds and access to care is very tough in this part of New Hampshire.” So, he was monitored closely for four days and then sent to Catholic Medical Center via ambulance. “I was afraid and frustrated, but I had to stay calm and quiet,” he detailed.
Charlie underwent a quadruple bypass, and his life was truly spared. “The cardio surgeon at CMC was convinced that I could have died at any time. So due to Dr. Abeysinghe’s vast knowledge and experience, my life was saved the first time.” Time, detailed workups, and trusting of instincts all saved Charlie.
Two weeks later, Charlie suffered an effusion which was diagnosed by yet another provider at HealthFirst, Lynne Dugan, APRN. This required a helicopter ride to save his life. Because of Lynne’s quick response, he was literally saved a second time, with just minutes to spare.
“Neither of the two providers I saw at HealthFirst Family Care Center during these instances are my primary provider, and yet they both discovered issues that ultimately saved my life. They uncovered things other doctors at other practices or an Urgent Care or a pharmacy would have missed. And let me be clear, I didn’t get special treatment because I worked there.”
Through all of this, he felt alienated and terrified, but he trusted in the care and assurance of his providers who educated and supported him back to health. “Quite simply, I got better because I followed their instructions,” Charlie shared, “and once I felt better and strong enough, I got back to work (HealthFirst kept my job) and let me tell you, they watched me like a hawk during my recovery – heck, they still nag me – but they couldn’t have shown me any more love.”
Some feel there’s a perception in our community that the HealthFirst Family Care practices serve the under or uninsured and those who have Medicare or Medicaid, and while this is true, we are proud of the care that we gave Charlie that day and continue to give all our patients. Charlie shared, “When I started working here ten years ago, I figured that our care was somehow lesser because we treat patients of low income, Medicare, Medicaid; there’s no one or no issue we turn away. I am here today to tell you that I have Medicare, Medicaid, and military health insurance, and I would not go anywhere else for my health care. I trust HealthFirst with my whole family, and I encourage all of my military brothers to try us and see.”
It was not only this health journey of Charlie’s but also countless other moments where he has leaned on the support of the HealthFirst team. From the onset of his post-family accident depression in 2002 to the primary care check-ins, to the work that he has done with a diligent HealthFirst coach to lower his blood pressure, A1C, and drop 30 pounds, he has looked to HealthFirst across his entire health journey. “I continue to be impressed by their care for me and my entire family,” he said.
He went on to say, “From my time working at the front desk, I witnessed patients who arrived and were looking forward to their appointments. To this day, patients come in with dignity to talk to someone who will genuinely listen to them without being rushed along.”
At HealthFirst Family Care Center, we believe in the power of provider support and knowledgeable, thorough, and comprehensive health plans. Our doctors and providers are not just here for you when they meet with you in the patient exam room, they are calling their patients at 8 pm just to check in with them. We wholeheartedly believe that going to the right practice and doctor can make all the difference, especially in this region of New Hampshire.
During this Zoom interview, the whiteboard behind Charlie read, “Thank you for doing all that you do around here, Charlie!” which is a testament to how much his co-workers appreciate him each day. Today, Charlie says he is thinking about going back to school to be a counselor or to learn more about information technology. He is currently supporting both HFFCC practice locations with IT and building general maintenance.
Charlie, we thank you for sharing your story and very personal experiences with us.
To learn more about HealthFirst, our providers and the services that we offer, please reach out to us. Not being able to pay or having concern that “it won’t be covered” should never be a deterrent for receiving comprehensive, quality health care.