A young woman fell suddenly and critically ill last week in a third world country 1,400 miles from New Albany. It was a scary, dicey situation, and a remarkable series of events followed during the next two days.
Kara Hancock, the daughter of Karen and Allen Hancock of Union County, was vacationing on a resort island off the northern coast of Honduras. She became deathly sick early Thursday morning, July 26. Resort personnel got her to the small hospital on the island. Then a helicopter flew her over a hundred miles to a hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the second largest metropolitan area in Honduras with a population of 1.4-million.
Although Honduras is a very poor country, and an estimated 15 percent of the people have no access to professional medical care, San Pedro Sula is an exception. Many of the doctors were trained in U.S. medical schools and the medical facilities are reasonably well equipped.
The doctors who treated Kara Hancock were competent, and her emergency treatment seems to have been on par with what she would have received in major U.S. cities.
Her condition was stabilized, but she was still a long way from home in a dangerous third world country with no family and friends nearby. She was accompanied by a woman from the island resort, who scrupulously secured her possessions and helped her communicate in a Spanish-speaking country.
Karen and Allen Hancock were called, told that Kara was very sick in a Honduran hospital, but knew no details of her condition. They wanted to hurry to her, but they did not have passports and could not travel to Honduras.
Back in Mississippi, Shanda Williams lives in Ingomar. She had gone to school with Kara Hancock at West Union Attendance Center, and had remained close to the Hancock family. Not quite two weeks earlier, Williams had met U. S. Senator Roger Wicker on July 14th, at the first-ever Ecru, Mississippi, Peach Festival. She knew that businessman Ken Nowlin had hosted Wicker, his grandchildren and Judge Fred Wicker, the senator’s father, at the Peach Festival. In fact, Nowlin had introduced Williams to Mississippi’s senior senator, and they were photographed together.
Williams knew that Nowlin had Wicker’s cell phone number. She called Nowlin and asked him to call Wicker to see what could be done about expediting passports for the Hancocks, so they could go to Honduras. Nowlin and another of Wicker’s friends, Stewart Rutledge, a New Albany native, both called Wicker.
Roger Wicker has served in the U.S. Congress for 23 years, first representing north Mississippi in the House of Representatives then moving to the U.S. Senate in 2007. He has gotten to know a lot of people in Washington during those years. He has become close with President Donald Trump. (In fact, the Jackson Clarion Ledger, which used to be a statewide newspaper, recently chastised Wicker severely for his loyalty to Trump.)
After getting the calls from Nowlin and Rutledge, Wicker asked people at the U. S State Department to expedite passports for the Hancocks. First District Congressman Trent Kelly, who has been a loyal Trump supporter since before the 2016 presidential election, made a call.
Anyway, people at State Department headquarters in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood got some phone calls from influential people across town on Capitol Hill.
Normally, it takes weeks to get a passport. However, the State Department contacted the Hancocks and told them they could pick up their passports in Arkansas the next day. Clearly, somebody in the State Department bureaucracy was motivated to make it happen — and fast. When the Hancocks arrived at the federal building in Arkansas, they were welcomed immediately and valid U.S. passports were soon in their hands.
Back in Union County, Shanda Williams was anxious to get her long-time friend out of Honduras and back to the U.S. quickly. She already had a valid U.S. passport, and she became a kind of one-woman “mission impossible” squad. Williams gave a detailed account of her trip in a long conversation with NAnewsweb.com Saturday afternoon.
Traveling alone, Williams flew from Memphis to Atlanta and boarded a Delta Airlines flight to San Pedro Sula.
Shanda Williams said she was upset during the flight from Atlanta, and a Delta flight attendant came to her aid. She told the flight attendant why she was traveling, and her hope of getting her friend Kara Hancock back to the U.S. The flight attendant told Williams that a Delta executive, a woman who works for the airline in Honduras, was on the plane. She was taken to the first class cabin to meet the Delta exec, who, it turns out, knew a doctor at the hospital in San Pedro Sula.
The woman from Delta called her doctor friend, who said that Kara Hancock was, as a matter of fact, his patient.
When the plane landed at Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport, the Delta executive helped Williams through customs and put her in a taxi to the hospital. There was apparently some kind of chaotic labor or political protest, a near riot, underway, and the taxi driver was having trouble making way. Williams does not speak Spanish and could not communicate with the driver. She called her new Delta executive friend from the cab, and the lady was able to tell the cabby what he needed to know.
When they finally arrived at the hospital, the United States Department of State was still on the job. Williams said a woman from the embassy met her at the hospital and stayed with her.
At this point in the story, it’s time to tell what unique skills Shanda Williams brought to Kara Hancock’s situation. She has worked for 15 years for the Affordable Employee Benefits insurance agency in Ecru, which is owned by Ken Nowlin’s sons, Andrew and John. Every day she works with insurance companies, solving problems for the agency’s insured customers. Like Roger Wicker, Shanda Williams knows some people.
From Honduras she worked with the international manager of the hospital, making arrangements with Kara Hancock’s health insurance carrier. They arranged for the insurer to pay for transporting Kara Hancock back to the United States and to cover her care at a Memphis hospital.
A small jet, specially equipped for medical transport and with medical personnel aboard, flew several hundred miles from Mexico to Morales International Airport. Kara Hancock was loaded aboard on a gurney.
She and Shanda Williams then flew, along with the plane’s own medical personnel, to the U.S. They landed at Memphis International Airport Saturday morning, and Kara Hancock was admitted to a Memphis hospital. The medical people on the airplane briefed the Memphis physicians about Kara Hancock’s medical condition, then flew back to Mexico.
Karen and Allen Hancock were driving back to New Albany from Arkansas, when Shanda Williams called them. They didn’t use their brand new passports, but crossed the Mississippi River and went to the hospital.
Call it luck, divine intervention, serendipity, magic — by whatever name, it was a remarkable series of events and actions involving a lot of people. From friendships developed at a small Mississippi town festival, to a Delta executive who just happened to be on a flight to Central America, many things went amazingly right at the exact right time for some Union County people.