Part I – A Life Shaped by Poverty and Loss
So far, I’ve had the privilege to interview two extraordinary women running for Congress.
One of these women is Danielle Mitchell, MD, who is a Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent, Charles Fleischmann, for Tennessee’s third district (TN-3) seat in the House of Representatives. The third district is located in the Northeastern portion of the state and it encompasses Anderson, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Morgan, Polk, Roane, Scott and portions of Bradley and Campbell counties. According to Ballotpedia, the district has a total of 715,757 residents with a median income of $38,020.
Throughout our conversation, I found her to be erudite, thoughtful, compassionate, and a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for the residents of TN-3.
In contrast to Rep. Charles Fleischmann, who believes that waiting tables and mopping floor as a teenager was a sign of a difficult youth, Dr. Mitchell’s childhood and education personifies the phrase “how the other half lives” and achieving the “American Dream.”
There were six people in her impoverished family, such that, they were evicted from several houses due to an inability to pay rent and relied on “government resources in order for us to survive.” Additional instability was created by changing schools six times by the age of twelve due having to “move just to find work.” Their family did better financially when her construction worker father was able to obtain union jobs, but when those jobs ended they were plunged back into financial uncertainty.
They lacked medical insurance and she understands “the hopelessness of not having health insurance.” She describes a particular painful time for her family due to the lack of medical insurance to help her younger brother when they had to:
“…borrow money to get my brother’s life saving medicine for his epilepsy. Eventually, one of the bills that my family couldn’t pay was the bill to see the doctor, a neurologist, for my brother and my brother was eventually denied care because we couldn’t afford to pay that bill. And whenever he was denied care, I think it was to the best of my recollection…probably about three weeks later that he died of a massive seizure in our home. And that thing, that moment, obviously, makes a huge impression on a person…I can just remember, you know, that it didn’t feel right when you lose one of your own in a way that’s very tragic as well. I was fifteen when that happened and I decided that I was going to do something better for people.”
She knew the way to “escape this life cycle of poverty” was through education and, in particular, by attending college. “So, I put myself through undergrad, as well as, med school and I went to med school on a combination of mostly loans. I had a small scholarship and a lot of hard work and, here I am, I’m a family medicine physician now.”
Prior to the passage of the ACA, she was employed by a corporate entity, so she received company provided healthcare.
She says, “I decided that I was going to move here to Tennessee and this is one of the areas of our nation that is very under served. We have some of the worst healthcare outcomes in the nation happen in the south and Tennessee is certainly one of those states.”
The passage of the ACA afforded her the opportunity to “make a difference in people’s lives” by enabling her to open her own practice. Currently, she operates a medical clinic, The Chattanooga Sports Institute and Center for Health, located in Chattanooga, TN where she provides preventative healthcare for 1400 people. Without the ACA, she would not have been able to obtain medical insurance and open her own business.
Indeed, she credits the ACA for saving her life. In 2007, she was diagnosed as “morbidly obese” and underwent a personal journey where she lost 100 pounds and participated in seven IronMan Triathlons.
Later, she developed unusual symptoms in her legs and in 2014 was diagnosed with a rare vascular disease. The ACA provided her the opportunity to have surgery that saved her limb from amputation.
The life saving and career altering opportunities that the ACA gave her, the current Republican attempts to repeal the ACA, and Trump’s sabotage of the program motivated her to run for the House of Representatives in TN-3 against GOP Rep. Charles Fleischmann.
Having many medical issues, myself, I have a multitude of doctors and none has truly understood what it is like to be denied care, not afford care, and struggle to make ends meet. I didn’t think I would ever meet or speak with a physician who understands this on a personal level, as well as, making a commitment to better all of our lives until I spoke with Dr. Danielle Mitchell.
Please check back next week for Part II-The ACA, Medicare for All, and Universal Healthcare.
To donate to Dr. Mitchell’s campaign, please go to: www.mitchell4congress.com/donate (hit ctrl and click if site doesn’t appear to be working).