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Recently: Following her heart after saving one

Maggi Grace, in her Carrboro studio, has truly found her way in the world. Photo by Valarie Schwartz.

By Valarie Schwartz

When, in the summer of 2004, Maggi Grace learned that the life of her uninsured partner of one year depended upon heart surgery that would cost $200,000, she responded with both reactions to the fight-or-flight response.

When fighting with the medical community didn’t work (her logical approach resulted in cold negative responses), she quickly moved to Plan B provided by her eldest son, Bryan, then a medical student at Stanford University — she looked to India.

Within two months of the diagnosis, they arrived in New Delhi, where the surgeries (it turned out that two were required), care and one month’s stay were provided for less than $10,000.

Grace didn’t know that she had done anything more than save her man until the worldwide media (among them, CNN, Bloomberg Magazine, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post, AARP) began clamoring to interview this first couple from the United States to take such a pilgrimage.

Two months after they returned home, Grace began to write the book about their experience that was published last year as State of the Heart (New Harbinger Publications, 2007).
Her dream of becoming a published author was coming true at long last.

But before the book was released, the relationship ended, leaving her with a book to promote that featured a relationship from which she needed to heal. She soon learned that talking about it, like ripping bandages from a healing wound, hurt a lot, but promoted true, deep healing.

Grace, a Carrboro artist, who teaches painting and poetry in her home through The ArtsCenter, is a study in life’s metaphors.

“When I finish a painting, I cover it so it dries slowly,” Grace said of her own curing process. “It’s been very hard, but it’s a good kind of healing.”

Through email and on the book-selling circuit, she has heard the stories of countless Americans who faced serious health issues with no insurance. In some instances, remaining loved ones shared stories, but the book has given new hope to people wrestling with the issues.

“It’s been wonderful to hear the audiences’ take on the health care system,” Grace said. “The public reception has been very gracious.”

The book, like its writer, delivers information with genuine warmth and rich details. The reviews have been excellent.

“I’ve been connected to the world in such a way it makes the world feel more accessible to me,” she said as she told of a woman who attended a reading in Florida fresh off a plane from India. “She was best friends with the doctor who did the surgery and stayed after the reading to talk to me.”

As the advocate of the patient, Grace made decisions when he could not, and saw the well-oiled machinery of the Indian hospital. She has been the spokesperson since it all started and was the one who received the calls after stories were released — from others with health concerns and from those looking to turn medical tourism into a business. After saying no to many who asked, late last year she said yes to a job with a New York-based company, One World United, which has an Indian subsidiary called Best Med Journeys (bestmedjourneys.com) that has simplified the process for Americans traveling to India for the medical care they require.

On her most recent (and fourth) trip to India, Grace spent time with the owner of the company and knows he is more dedicated to simplifying the process for people in this situation than in capitalizing on their hardship.

Her title hasn’t changed, but now she delivers keynote speeches and PowerPoint presentations and wears a Blackberry.

“I have joined them as the ‘patient advocate’ so that I can communicate with perspective patients and answer their questions to be sure communication flows smoothly,” Grace said. She appreciates that the path will be easier for those following behind her.

“India has a part of my heart there. It ripped a piece out — and it’s OK — it didn’t take anything away from me, it multiplied me,” she said.

“When I land there and feel the air, it feels like coming home.”

Grace reads from her book and answers questions at 3:30 p.m. March 21 at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

2 Responses

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  1. Jay

    India has a 5000 year medical tradition called Ayurveda (Life Science) of which Yoga is a subset. India has also legions of of doctors trained in western medicine. Indian doctors combine compassion with frugality which translates into better outcomes with substantial cost savings for patients. India is already the mecca for healthcare for patients from neghboring countries, africa, UAE etc. Travelling to India for healthcare even dental care is a win win idea for most westrners.

  2. Healthbase

    Maggie did an excellent job in capturing her experience in a book. It is very nice.
    At Healthbase.com we are helping more and more Americans everyday, in getting affordable health care in India and other countries (with over 80% cost savings in many cases). Our customers stories are at: https://www.healthbase.com/hb/pages/testimonials.jsp