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Bruce's Struggle with Medical Debt After a Heart Attack

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

“I did not plan for that heart attack. I didn’t wake up one day and think, ‘I’ll show them! I’ll just have me a heart attack.’”


Bruce Parks lives in the hills of Campbell County and considers himself an “independent, self-made man.” Bruce said he always took care of himself, pulled his own weight, and never depended on anyone. He has spent his adult life working low-wage jobs as a cook, a janitor, a handyman, and more. Though he sometimes had to walk miles through the mountains to get to work, he was never late and never missed a shift. But none of these jobs provided him with healthcare.


Then the attack came. About five years ago, in his late 40s, Bruce had a “widow maker” heart attack that, according to one of the doctors, should have killed him. He was airlifted to UT Knoxville and received a bill of $300,000. Needless to say, such a bill is impossible for Bruce to pay without insurance. Though he continued working over the next three years, his heart weakened until it reached only 15% capacity, at which point cardiologists advised he get a pacemaker. But without insurance, this, too, is impossible.

With such a frail heart, Bruce cannot continue working. Without income, he cannot afford rent and would be homeless if his friend had not given him an empty house to live in. Bruce refuses to take narcotics to deal with pain, so he has begun harvesting herbs from the hills. He takes care of himself through regular walks and a healthier diet.

“I’ve always said that when my time comes, it will just come,” Bruce tells. “I always felt my timing was in God’s hands. But now I’ve learned it’s actually in the hands of our Tennessee senators and representatives, the very people we elected to serve us.”

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