Perseverance through the unexpected

Oct 28, 2021


Lindsay Helvey, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

It is often said, “You never know where life will take you.” In Lindsay Helvey’s case, she would never have believed when she graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in political science, international relations and pre-law she would become a board-certified family nurse practitioner caring for patients in Ukiah, California.

After graduation and unsure about precisely what she wanted to do, Lindsay considered joining the Peace Corps but ultimately decided to visit Africa twice with another nonprofit, each visit lasting for two months.

Unfortunately, this is where life took an unexpected twist. During her first trip, she learned her mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. When she returned to Ohio, throughout her mother’s hospitalization and follow-up care, Lindsay clearly saw the difference healthcare providers with a kind, compassionate and calm bedside manner make. She decided to pursue a degree in nursing as she cared for her mother because, “I wanted to show patients the human side of medicine and what healthcare can look like.”

In 2014, now with a master’s degree in nursing from Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Lindsay decided to make a third trip to Africa, providing healthcare to a rural village and surrounding areas in the poverty-stricken country of Malawi.

As one might expect, circumstance were less than ideal. She often cared for people on a mat under a tree or a similar situation – truly taking healthcare to people in need. Serving as the “village nurse”, along with preventative and primary medicine, she provided extensive wound care and saw the difference she made in people’s lives. She says about that time, “It is part of why I fell I love with healthcare.”

And this is where life took another unexpected twist. While in Malawi, Lindsay acquired a serious, unknown virus, which has grown increasingly worse through the years. Undeterred by progressive illness, when she returned to Ohio she accepted a position as an ER nurse and eventually decided to earn a second master’s degree, this one in family nurse practitioner (FNP), at Spring Harbor University in Michigan.

In 2019, she and her husband Jared felt called to make a change in their life, and Lindsay interviewed for her current role with Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Family Medicine Residency Clinic. She says the position enables her to advocate for patients and serve as their cheerleader as they work to improve their health. An attentive listener and committed health educator, she enjoys the back and forth interaction and watching patients respond to encouragement and newly gained knowledge for managing their health.

Active engagement with patients also helps Lindsay identify those with mental health concerns. She says, “Mental health is very important to me. I try to be proactive in the community and am thrilled the clinic just hired a counselor to help patients in need.”

When Covid-19 swept the United States, the unknown virus and complications she has dealt with for so many years “exploded”. Her condition has now been diagnosed as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and mast cell activation syndrome, both falling under an umbrella diagnosis of autonomic dysfunction. As her health has continued to decline, Lindsay has experienced cardiac and circulatory issues, stroke-like episodes, migraines, passing out and much more.

“Literally, every day it’s hard to get up.”

But get up she does. While she now uses a cane and wheelchair to get around and sometimes virtual visits to see patients, Lindsay says her capacity is growing. She credits the incredible support of her husband and of her manager and administration for helping her to continue doing what she loves.

“You have to grieve who you were and who you thought you were going to be,” she says. “I try to be as positive as I can, and my patients help me to be positive. I want to show people what you can do despite obstacles. It is important to have and be an example.

“Don’t ever stop advocating for yourself. Keep going, don’t lose hope. Just keep going,” she continues. “We all struggle. We just have different struggles.”

What’s next? Right now, Lindsay is considering how she might share her story as a speaker or author to inspire and help others “just keep going”.