CHAMPAIGN – Mary Gabb, a health writer, unexpectedly became a hero for a Champaign library patron who had a health emergency earlier this month.
As a volunteer for the Champaign Public Library, she was delivering books to the home of Sara Henkel and went up the back stairs to the third-story apartment on Springfield Avenue on Jan. 12.
Gabb, who has a degree in biochemistry and does freelance writing, often in articles about diabetes and psychiatry, has been a library volunteer for five years. In that time, she has probably met 50 people, but had never met Henkel before that encounter.
"I knocked on the door," Gabb said. "I said, 'Hi. I'm from the Champaign library. I'm here to deliver your books.'
"(Henkel) said, 'Oh, I'm in so much pain. I feel terrible.' She was actually wrapped up in a blanket."
Henkel, 60, who has been disabled for 10 years, said she had become ill and dehydrated.
"I was pretty much out of my mind with pain," Henkel said. "I could feel myself slipping into shock."
Henkel admits to being "real stubborn" and not calling anyone for help herself.
"I was so sure I could just will it away," Henkel said. "I kept thinking something's wrong, but I just kept thinking it would go away. By the time I realized I needed help, I couldn't do anything. That's when Mary came."
Henkel said what Gabb did was special.
"She gave me a second chance at life; that's all I know," Henkel said. "I was so cold. I was in shock. I did not know I totally dehydrated myself. I would have probably been unconscious very shortly – and dead soon after that."
In the five years of delivering books and materials for the library, this was the first time that something like this has happened, Gabb said.
"I'm a medical writer, but I'm not a doctor," Gabb said. "It was pretty clear that she was not in good shape. She was doubled over with pain. She was moaning. She just said, 'I feel like I'm going to die.' I told her, 'I really think we ought to call 911.'"
So Gabb called for emergency services about noon that day and five paramedics arrived within a couple of minutes, she said. Gabb told the dispatchers her situation and that the woman there "was in a terrible amount of pain and somebody needed to take a look at her."
Henkel got on the phone with them briefly as well.
While the medical help was on the way, Gabb rounded up and put away Henkel's two cats, giving them food, water and their litter box.
"She was concerned they would escape from her apartment," Gabb said.
Henkel said she owes thanks to a lot of people, including Gabb, the library and the paramedics and emergency room staff. She also thanked her home care aide, Gabriel Stanton, and the Family Services Senior Outreach office.
"This made me feel real good," Henkel said. "It gave me back my sense of community. I feel safe again."