A recent CDC report shows that rural Americans are at a higher risk of early death than residents from bigger cities due to a lack of access to proper healthcare.

The report states that these residents are dying from things that would be preventable if proper care is received. The five leading causes, according to the report, are cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke and unintentional injury.

There are more than 46 million Americans who live in rural communities. Many reside in the Northern Plains, such as Cheryl Donoven and her family, who live in a small North Dakota town called Trenton, which has a population of 735.

Last August,Cheryl’s husband Dale contracted a serious case of West Nile virus and was quickly rushed 30 miles away to the hospital in Sidney.

“We didn’t know what for sure was going on,” Donoven said in an online web call. “I was just hoping that we made it in time.”

Cheryl recalls the incident as a nightmare. She said it didn’t take long for the medical team to realize Dale needed to be transferred somewhere bigger.

“I think we got there about 2 a.m., and by 3:30, we knew we were flying somewhere,” Donoven said.

Dale was flown by helicopter to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, where he was in a coma for 10 days.

“It was very emotional the first 10 days because we didn’t know if he was going to come out,” Donoven said.

Donoven’s story is just one example of the struggle many rural families face in eastern Montana. St. Vincent’s Trauma Director Barry Mckenzie said he witnesses the struggle firsthand daily.

“It’s a big gap in rural America, and Montana is unfortunately the leader of that if you will,” Mckenzie said. “It’s a long way to travel and they may not have a vehicle that can make that distance or they’ve got to stay and take care of a farm or ranch and stuff.”

Nationwide, around 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. The CDC study estimates that 6.37 million Americans have died prematurely over the last 12 years, with 64 percent of deaths from unintentional injury. The report states that unintentional injury includes car accidents, falls, and unintentional shootings.

And that’s what St. Vincent’s and other hospitals in our region will continue to focus on, hoping to provide the best care possible in an effort to save lives.

“As a level 1 trauma center, we’ve had to look at ways to help support that to provide those resources and training to be at the patient’s bed side as soon as possible,” Mckenzie said.

Efforts that mean a lot to families like the Donovens, who know just how desperate times can be.

“I was glad they were getting him out of here because I knew Williston or Sidney wasn’t capable of taking care of his needs,” Donoven said.


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