Helping Hand Worldwide: Katie’s Story

Katie F. is an example of a person whose life has been profoundly touched by Helping Hand Worldwide and the generous donors that support it.

Katie, 64, lived and worked in Laguna Beach as an on-site property manager for 22 years, and before that, for the City of Ontario. Her lifelong dream was to have her own art gallery, and in 1989, as she was finalizing plans to form a partnership with another artist, her dreams were coming true. One afternoon as she painted in her studio, Katie felt “an explosion go off” in her head. It was an aneurism behind her eye, which in most cases is fatal within 5 to 7 minutes. Wrongly diagnosed with a flu virus, her aneurism was not identified for two days as her brain hemorrhaged into her spinal column. When the seriousness of her condition was realized, a team of doctors raced to stop the damage. When a second aneurism appeared ready to erupt in the speech center of Katie’s brain, she decided to say good-bye to her loved ones and put her affairs in order before the next surgery.

The good-byes were unnecessary. Katie’s surgery was successful. Slowly, painfully, she recovered. It took her three years for her to relearn walking and talking. She still has difficulty with numbers, and a listener must often wait for her speech to catch up with her thoughts.

Despite a frugal lifestyle while raising two children as a single mother and solid financial planning that included savings and retirement funds from her municipal job, Katie’s finances were devastated. Her medical bills were in the six figures. One medication cost $900 per month. She became desperate to find a place to live, facing the tough choice between buying food and medication and paying her rent. An aunt died and left Katie a bit of money. She used it to purchase a camper van, and lived in it for a year, parking on the streets of Laguna Beach. She did her best to remain cheerful, making do with what she had, but it stung to know that many passersby got the impression that this hard-working retiree and artist was a mentally deranged or inebriated person living on the streets.

When Katie learned of a very limited number of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) housing units for fixed-income senior citizens that would become available in Laguna Beach, she eagerly researched it. Waiting lists for HUD housing are typically three to seven years. In order to be the first on the list, she spent the night in her van outside the agency’s offices. Katie got lucky; she received a call a year later and was able to move into a HUD-subsidized studio apartment.

Life improved, and then it got even better: Helping Hand Worldwide began to make weekly food deliveries to the 78 residents at HUD housing units in Laguna Beach in 2008. Katie recalls taking her first delivery of food: “It was like Christmas morning when the angels rolled up in their trucks and started unloading all this wonderful food. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

Today, Katie’s cheerful outlook touches everyone around her. A lively, joyful person, she cherishes every sunrise and sunset, knowing that she came close to never seeing another. She has a safe, comfortable place to live and, thanks to help from her friends at Helping Hand Worldwide and the organizations that support it, good health that comes from proper nutrition.

“I’m one of the luckiest women on the planet.” Katie comments. “I’m so very grateful to the people who help me every day.”