By Christopher Smith
Last Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Serena McDermott blacked out, her friends and co-workers said.
When she woke up in the Erlanger Health System hospital in Chattanooga late the same day, after a stint at Hamilton Medical Center, she was told by doctors she had complications with her aorta and had bleeding in her brain from two aneurysms, several people said.
Now, McDermott — a single mother of four children — is facing a costly health care nightmare. Without any insurance and currently no income, McDermott is struggling to find care she can afford and is mostly bedridden at home waiting to see if she can access Medicare or Medicaid to get vital treatment.
That’s why staff members at several local restaurants are rallying this week around McDermott, a lunchtime server at the LongHorn Steakhouse restaurant off Walnut Avenue, by seeking donations from the community.
“You don’t work day in and day out with people and not have a connection with them,” Amy LaFond, manager of the local LongHorn, said.
On top of taking donations from the community, LaFond has used connections with other local restaurant managers to raffle several gift cards to the local eateries, including Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Lisa’s Cafe sandwich shop, CiCi’s Pizza and more. Each raffle ticket costs $1; most gift cards are between $20 to $25 in value, LaFond said, adding that the drawing for each card is set for Sunday afternoon with a cutoff to get tickets set for Saturday.
“They can come in here to the restaurant and get the raffle tickets from the employees who will be selling them,” she said.
The restaurant is at 1315 W. Walnut Ave. Anyone wanting to donate more than just the price of a raffle ticket can contact server Kellie Washington, who is helping oversee larger donations, by calling the restaurant’s main number at (706) 281-1568.
“We feel compelled to do something,” Washington said.
LongHorn employees have already raised about $520 with the corporate office matching another $500, LaFond said.
“We’re just trying to raise some money for her and her kids,” LaFond said. “Anyone can spare a dollar to help.”
Rachael King, a LongHorn server and friend of McDermott, said the single mother “really deserves” the help.
“She’s very, very intelligent,” King said. “She’s very smart. She does Cryptoquips in the paper. We make fun of her because no one here can do them but her. She’s very witty. Very friendly, but very hard-working. She comes into work for her kids.”
McDermott has one adult son who is currently helping support the family, 12-year-old twins and a 3-year old daughter, several servers said.
“Her kids are literally all that she has,” King said. “She has struggled enough when she was able to work. But now, things are going to be extremely difficult. It is just her and her kids on their own.”
LaFond, who began as manager of LongHorn last year, said several regulars to the steakhouse look forward to being served by McDermott, who has worked at the restaurant for almost 11 years.
“She’s known,” LaFond said. “People know who she is.”
Which makes her absence hard on the LongHorn “family,” she added.
“This is just unexpected,” Washington said. “No one had any idea that she would wake up and have this happen to her one day. Now her kids are left caring for their mother instead of the other way around. Right here at Christmastime.”