After 54 years as a resident of Maryland, Carol Mazzullo moved to Beverly Hills, Florida ready to escape winter, enjoy the sunshine and embrace the next chapter of her life — retirement. She never could have predicted what was to come.
The few months following her move became the most trying health journey of her life. As a type 2 diabetic, her health suddenly began declining quickly.
She developed a condition called osteomyelitis, which is the swelling of bone tissue that usually comes from an infection. Carol had ulcers on her feet that eventually spread to her heel and other parts of her foot. The pain only worsened as the osteomyelitis continued to spread. As Carol tried to hobble around on her feet, one day she heard a snap.
“My ankle had broken. This was horrific. This was the start of my downfall of my right leg,” she said.
Her doctor told her he couldn’t reset her ankle because of the wounds on the bottom of her foot, which were not healing properly.
“I couldn't even put my feet down without feeling this horrific pain. And I knew at that point when I got to (the doctor’s) office, I was in a lot of trouble,” Carol said.
Her doctor explained over 75% of her ankle bone had deteriorated. Carol said he then laid out her options as two choices, “either continue on with this pain or you can lose your limb and still have a life.”
She decided to move forward with the amputation. Doctors removed her leg up to her knee and Carol’s life changed in an instant.
“I didn't know what I was going do. Was I going to walk again? Was I going feel like I was a whole person?” she said.
Carol said she felt defeated, she was emotionally drained and overwhelmed trying to figure out her new life as an amputee. She didn’t have anyone to turn to and was feeling alone in a very difficult journey.
“I was here all by myself … the ambulance drivers dropped me in the chair and they said, ‘Are you going to be OK?’ I said, ‘Well, I think so,’” she said. “I wasn’t. I was actually very beside myself.”
Soon after returning home, Carol was referred to the Family Engagement Center, which is part of the UnitedHealthcare Complex Care Concierge program, due to her long-term, on-going care needs.
Complex Care Concierge (C3) is a service that matches eligible members and their families with a dedicated care advocate who provides personal support and acts as a single point of contact connected to all aspects of the health care system. On average, those with complex health needs may have five times more claims and see three times more specialists than the average patient. The C3 program works to give these members a more in-depth, coordinated system of support.
Through the program, eligible members may also have access to a nurse and a chaplain, who can help them through the emotional rollercoaster than often comes with a complex health issue.
For Carol, that person was Laura Ritter, a chaplain who works with the C3 program to help provide social and emotional support. Laura said that support spans across all faiths, as well as those who don’t identify as spiritual or religious.
“When we first met, she had just gotten home from the hospital and was at her house alone,” Laura said of Carol. “She was a new amputee, and she was just trying to figure out like, how is she going to get through each day?”
She worked one-on-one with Carol and helped her emotionally navigate this new journey. In addition, Carol also had a care advisor, David, to help with her day-to-day needs and appointments and a nurse, Amanda, who helped her manage her physical care.
“One of the goals of the Complex Care Concierge program is to really just be one step ahead of what that member's needs might be,” Laura said.
Carol said Laura’s guidance was just what she needed.
“She listened with the utmost care, and she gave me so much perspective,” she said.
Carol said the help she received through the C3 program helped her through one of the most emotionally and physically challenging times of her life — she felt supported, she felt cared for and even loved.
“All three worked in such a tremendous way. They all talked to each other on a consistent basis and provided notes so that each one could read and find out how I was doing,” Carol said. “Because of all of this, it caused me the opportunity to be able to heal and to really just not focus on the stress.”
Carol said she’s a different person now post-amputation, but she’s grown in the best ways. She credits her C3 team for a lot of that growth.
“I was so impressed with the way that UnitedHealthcare was just taking me under. And I can't even begin to tell you I don't know how many, hundreds of thousands of dollars of bills, of surgeries, of things that UnitedHealthcare has handled on my behalf,” she said.
“I am so fulfilled because of them. I’m super proud of how far I’ve come.”
To learn more about Complex Care Concierge, visit uhc.com.