The old adage of “walk a mile in their shoes” comes to mind when this story first came to light. Darius was actually walking a mile up hill for the 9/11 Day of Remembrance in his firefighting gear when he shared part of his story.
Darius grew up in Huntington, West Virginia and was a junior Firefighter at the time at a local Volunteer Fire Department. After his high school graduation, he left for California for adventure, schooling, and then eventually to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
His father’s untimely death inspired the beginnings of his EMT career “After my father passed I recalled what made me want to become an EMT with Green Valley, I was a junior at the time in 2009. We ran a call, it was one of my first five calls I’ve ever ran in my life, it was an overdose and I watched the EMTs bring him back with ease and they just said ‘Oh, it’s easy. It’s this, so no problem.’ That’s always stuck with me so I always wanted to give it a shot, and thought why not now.”
Working as an EMT in Los Angeles, Darius encountered many ups and downs, traumatic experiences, and trials. The critical care transport, traumatic injuries, and medical emergencies he dealt with for work had an impact on his well being, as many first responders face these difficulties. On top of work stress, he was about to face more complications with his family.
He remembers it like it was yesterday, he was working critical care transport with a patient they were trying to get to the hospital and seven phone calls came through from a dear family friend. Once able, Darius returned the call and learned his mother was in the hospital.
At that time, in 2016, the 24-year-old Darius had to move back home to care for his mother who had a stroke and developed an onset of chronic dementia, “It was new. I’d never had to do something like this before.” After his mother spent a month in hospital, Darius tried his best to care for her with some assistance from home health until the time when she declined in health rapidly causing him to put her in a long term care facility. Thankfully, his mother had long term care insurance which still covers the majority of the costs of that facility along with Darius having to pay out of pocket as well, to support his mother.
Luckily for Darius, West Virginia’s Medicaid program was there for him as he tried to care for his mother. Medicaid provided Darius the mental health care coverage, general physical assessments, and occasional emergency visits he needed as an adult. Even now, it is still there protecting him as he has joined the ranks of many WV small business owners. Darius taught himself to weld during the transition back to West Virginia and is now doing “non-certifiable custom fabrication welding and woodworking”.
From losing his father, his mother falling chronically ill, having the responsibilities of a household thrown upon him, to becoming a small business owner, and continuing to be a public servant as a Volunteer Fire Fighter/EMT, Darius is grateful Medicaid has been there for him the entire time.
Medicaid is a crucial part of this story for Darius, as it has been his health care coverage for about four years since he came back home to West Virginia, “I would pay for private health insurance if I could, I just don’t make enough money.” After looking for some “rando jobs just to have money” Darius realized his value in work could be compensated more equitably if he started his own business versus working at one of the big corporations (box stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, Petco) who all pay little and provide no health care.
As Darius showcased during the interview, he is aware of the benefits of Medicaid but also the struggles, “I rely on my glasses 24:7 to live.” He is looking forward to advocating for continued expansion of Medicaid, in particular vision coverage for adults, and appreciates the opportunities to share his story.