A 30-year-old seafood worker and mother of two who suffered a life threatening aneurism now struggles to pay the price for her survival.
Everyone who depends on the bay for a living is experiencing hard times right now, but Zella Smith’s problems are far worse than most.
About a year ago, she began to experience bad headaches.
On Sept. 17, her husband, oysterman Robbie Baxley, stopped by the home of Zella’s mother Carol Smith on his way to work the bay and asked her to check in on Zella, who was ill during the night.
About 5:30 a.m., Zella awakened and went into the bathroom where she collapsed.
Smith found her in the bathtub semiconscious. She took her daughter to Weems Memorial Hospital.
“In my opinion Dr. (Joda) Lynn done a wonderful job,” Smith said. “He seen that my child got out of there and got help. The nurses were real good too. Nurse Jean Powers stayed with Zella most of the time and you can tell she was really concerned.”
Zella had suffered from a stroke and a ruptured aneurism. The staff at Weems recognized Zella needed emergency surgery but windy conditions made an airlift by helicopter impossible, so Shands Hospital at the University of Florida sent a jet to bring Zella to Gainesville for surgery.
Zella said she had never flown before but her caregivers at Weems made it clear she wouldn’t survive without the surgery so Zella flew for the first time.
She received emergency surgeries on Sept. 18 and 19. The aneurism was clamped and a shunt placed in her skull to reduce pressure.
Zella remained in the hospital until the first week in October. She returned home with some memory loss, a permanent shunt and $400,000 in medical bills.
She continues to suffer severe headaches, and takes blood pressure medication three times a day to control wild fluctuations.
Smith is happy to have her daughter home.
“She’s a walking miracle, between this hospital and Shands and in my opinion the Lord must have been there too,” she said. “People talk about the hospital but they did everything they could for her.”
Zella has oystered, washed dishes at Boss Oyster and worked at the Apalachicola Subway for two and a half years but now is unable to work
Zella is trying to get by with help from her family and neighbors. She has two young sons, Christopher, 10 and Tyler, 7, to provide for.
She has had difficulty finding a primary care physician who will undertake the next phase of her treatment. But Smith said Dr. Gene Charbonneau at Weems East in Carrabelle gave her an appointment this week, the first physician to agree to see her since the surgery.
Zella must return to Gainesville sometime in the next three weeks for a post-surgical examination.
She said the counselors at Shands are attempting to enroll her in Medicaid but Smith said the family has yet to hear about possible financial support..
An account has been set up in Zella’s name at Cadence Bank and on Oct. 9 friends and family organized a benefit luncheon at Riverside Park that was a sell-out. Zella herself helped serve, in spite of her ongoing medical problems.