Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta native and former cancer patient Diem Brown of the MTV Road Rules show came up with an idea called MedGift while she was in her hospital bed five years ago. MedGift is online registry for patients to communicate their needs, wants and desires to friends and family. The Gwinnett Medical Center is the first hospital in the nation to launch the new concept. Jonathan Brownlee, left, of Dacula an employee of the GMC has made a profile for his father Windell Brownlee of Buford on MedGift.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's pretty simple, really: Dealing with medical trauma, be it cancer, a car accident, or something else altogether, makes you feel alone. You can feel helpless, like Diem Brown did, like a burden.
You don't know how to ask for help.
"The first week someone finds out they're sick, there's all this communication," Brown said recently at Gwinnett Medical Center. "But after a while it starts to dwindle, and the patient starts feeling alone, like, 'Nobody cares about me anymore, they don't want to hear it anymore, I'm just a sad thing in their life.'"
Brown knows what its like. The Atlanta native is a former MTV reality star, which gave birth to her career as an entertainment reporter in Los Angeles.
At the ripe old age of 23, though, it all came tumbling down. Ovarian cancer.
"This came from my deepest, darkest depression," Brown said.
"This" is MedGift. It's a patient gift registry for those dealing with medical hardships, one where those in need can list their needs, wants and wishes, and anyone can help. Brown dreamed up the idea and began designing the website while (literally) receiving chemo.
After five years of breathing life into it, big-time corporations Relay Health and McKesson have finally gotten behind the project. Gwinnett Medical Center recently became the nation's first acute care hospital to officially partner with MedGift for its patients.
"I want to hug Gwinnett Medical Center," Brown said. "Every time I hear their name, I'm like, 'Oh my God, thank you, you don't know what you're giving to your patients.'"
How it works
When a patient signs up at MedGift.com, they complete a profile with name, bio, etc. They then list things they desire, in three separate categories: needs, wants and wishes.
"It's all something to relieve a stress," Brown said, "but also to kind of give hope and (let patients) realize you're not alone and you have somewhere to go."
-- Needs mostly entail help with medical bills. Visitors to a patient's profile can may PayPal or credit card contributions, and 100 percent of their donation goes to that patient's bills.
-- Wants could include anything from a new wig to books to a DVD. They're usually given in the form of gift cards.
-- Wishes include non-monetary, but equally important, things. Well-wishers can volunteer to walk the patient's dog, help them get to appointments, or simply pray.
Jonathan Brownlee works in Gwinnett Medical's billing office. He deals with the struggle inside the struggle every day.
"It would blow your mind about what people would say to you when they're calling in about their expenses," he said, "and what they want to do to themselves when they don't feel like they have a way out."
Brownlee was one of the first to sign up a GMC patient through MedGift, registering his father during his battle with cancer. He called the website "nothing more than a miracle" during an emotional meeting with Brown last week.
"I'll be able to share this awesome gift with people, and I will, we will. It's huge," he said. "It's already touching my family, our little situation, but how it can help these people that are in real catastrophic situations? That's great."
In the early stages, Brown was her own one-woman fact-checking crew, doing her best to verify the validity of patients listing themselves of MedGift.
But now with the help of Relay Health and hospital affiliations like that with GMC, people that register must enter their patient ID number, which is verified through the hospital before a profile page goes live.
Why it works
The goal, Brown says, is basically three-fold.
MedGift helps "spread the burden," and gives those in need a more comfortable (and organized) forum in which to ask for help. But more than that, Brown said, she hopes that the website will help change the way people think about getting sick or injured, and how they deal with the subsequent battle.
"We celebrate every other milestone (with a registry), we celebrate births, we celebrate weddings," she said. "I wanted to bring the celebration to the fight ... It feels like your friends and family and community are part of your treatment now."
"So you have this huge army behind you," she continued, "fighting your fight with you."
Five years ago, Diem Brown got an "HTML for Dummies" handbook and started plugging away at the site right there in her hospital bed, learning and typing as poison was pumped into her veins for 16 hours at a time. Now she's traveling the country trying to get it set up in hospitals everywhere, from New York to San Francisco to Chicago.
The goal is for every sick person to have a MedGift-affiliated hospital in their community, Brown said. The goal is to bring help and happiness when nothing else can.
"It's showing that people do care," Brown said, "they just don't know how to help."