Born and raised in East Tennessee, 21-year-old Emily Wampler of Maryville has witnessed the trials of a lack of proper healthcare from two angles - for herself and as a caregiver. As a young adult, Emily became the primary caregiver of her grandmother Terri, who she calls “Mom.” Terri had stage 4 lung cancer as well as an auto-immune liver disease and sadly passed in December of 2022, shortly after the cancer spread to her brain.
During her time as primary caregiver, Emily experienced many challenges navigating the health care system, including a lack of adequate support from Terri’s insurance. “Up until Mom was in the hospital, I was taking care of her every need. Her in-home care was only there for an hour due to her insurance, so I had to find the time to work two jobs, go to school, and take care of her.”
Emily affectionately notes Terri’s resiliency in the way she was raised. Growing up for a time in Knoxville, Emily and Terri lived on very little income. In order to survive, Emily recalls thrifting for school projects, handmade outfits, and her grandmother missing out on meals so that Emily was sure to have enough food for her growing body.
In the midst of providing care for her grandmother, Emily herself has concerns about applying for and being able to afford health care once she ages out of the “CoverKids” program. Emily reached out to TJC for help accessing affordable care as a working student and caregiver. “[Mom] actually cried when my client advocate called me and told me there was hope to find insurance for me as a student. She was emotionally supporting me while I was physically supporting her.”
Emily has worked at Cracker Barrel since she was in high school. It has been her main source of income for about 5 years now. She also held an internship at a local nursing home caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia for a time. Now, she also volunteers at the Blount County Family Resource Center for 10 hours each week helping students like herself solve their non-academic barriers (such as poverty, lack of access to food, and homelessness) so they can be more successful in school. When not working or caring for her community, Emily enjoys singing, hiking, taking her dog for walks, and doing anything outdoors!
Emily deeply understands many of the barriers hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans face every day to access both preventative and life-saving health care. Her own experience as a caregiver has given her a unique perspective on the need for healthcare beyond the very sick. “No one should be denied medical help/access. In order to be caregivers, we must be able to take care of ourselves. We cannot provide when we are not healthy.”
TJC is proud to honor Emily Wampler as a 2023 Caregiver of the Year for her deeply compassionate care for her grandmother, her passion for the well-being of her community, and her advocacy for her own health.