Repaying A Debt: Doctor Brings Personal Story Of Poverty To Patient Care
This episode was a rebroadcast. The program originally aired on Monday, February 25, 2013.
When Leslie Smith was 24 years old, she was in a fire. After spending 3 months at the Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, she was released. Smith told Host Frank Stasio “It took me about ten years to recover from those injuries.”
“I had bandages from my neck down to my thighs where my burns were, and then from my thighs down to my ankles where they had taken skin to do skin grafting operations. So I literally was covered from ankle to neck in bandages.”
She was vulnerable to infections, barely mobile, and homeless. She would remain in those conditions for several years.
Smith believes that the kind strangers who went out of their way to offer her food, shelter, and compassion are the reason she survived.
Once, when in line for a bed at a downtown Raleigh shelter, the 69 pound Smith suddenly felt as though she might pass out. A gentleman whom she’d never met came over to offer assistance. She told him that she didn’t feel well, and his response was “I can fix it.”
Smith says she “didn’t give it a second thought,” but the gentleman came back with a dollar bill and some change. He walked across the street and bought her a Sprite and a bag of potato chips. At the shelter, men and women are not allowed to intermingle, Smith explains. “And because we did that, we both lost our ability to stay at the Raleigh Rescue Mission that night.”
After years on the streets, Smith was finally taken to a nursing home, where she had access to hospital transportation, three meals a day, and a bed. She was stronger than she had been in years. Her doctor encouraged her to pursue a degree in medicine. Smith received her undergraduate degree from Duke and her medical degree from Eastern Carolina University.
Smith suffered from serious depression while she was struggling to survive, but her triumph has allowed her to remain positive. Smith told The State of Things “The world is really about nice people and the news doesn’t accurately portray it.”
Smith resides in Boone, North Carolina, where she works as a primary care physician.