Christy Turnipseed is a self-proclaimed live music junkie and film nerd who has lived a full, social life despite facing death at nine years old. Like many of us who never imagined what 2020 would bring, she was leading a normal life despite whispers of the coronavirus on the news. She attended her last concert on February 22, 2020 only to enter full quarantine at home on March 12, 2020. Christy has been living the quarantined life ever since.
Christy was born and raised in West Homewood and still lives here today. Her parents built their home on Greenhill Drive in 1982, just off Raleigh Avenue, the home her mom still lives in today. “I loved growing up in West Homewood. We lived on a dead-end street, and there were five or six other kids who I spent my summers with or carpooled with to school. It was a great environment to grow up in. Hall Kent was wonderful and is even better now, and I love that I am still friends with my Kindergarten teacher,” said Christy.
When Christy was nine years old, her mom remarried, and the new family were eager to spend their first Christmas together. Days before, Christy was not feeling well and had gone to the doctor only to be misdiagnosed and sent home. Her illness became worse, and the holiday turned into a nightmare as she spent Christmas Eve in the emergency room at Children’s hospital. The doctors diagnosed her with pneumococcal pneumonia, and her ER visit turned into an extended stay in the ICU. There were several times during that period that doctors thought Christy may not live. Christy recalls how her mom was very strong in her faith during this time and was not going to accept that her daughter would die. “She turned to our church family at Raleigh Avenue Baptist, and they started a prayer chain throughout the West Homewood community. It was prayer and the doctors at Children’s Hospital who saved my life.”
A Miracle Treatment
In 1993, the ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine was still considered experimental and was much more invasive than it is today. Christy’s mother had faith that this treatment would work for her, and she became the eleventh oldest person in the world to be treated and only the third person to live using the ECMO machine. Her survival was so rare, that its inventor, Dr. Robert Bartlett, flew to Alabama to witness the miracle. Christy spent her tenth birthday in the ICU on a ventilator, and she would have to learn to walk again. Her life would be much different than the years she spent running through the neighborhood with friends and playing softball. Thankful to be alive, Christy was released from Children’s Hospital on April 15, more than three months after her ER visit on Christmas Eve.
Christy received support from the West Homewood community and Homewood City Schools during her first hospital stay and those that followed. The teachers and administration always ensured she never fell behind, even when she missed part of her senior year when she underwent two lobectomy surgeries to remove parts of her infected lungs. “If we didn’t have our church family or our West Homewood family, I don’t think my family would have been able to make it through the months I endured in the ICU. Our Hall Kent family raised money for us during that time, and the churches in Homewood united in prayer and believed I would live. This gave my parents strength. When I missed school while in the ICU and at other times when I had more surgeries, the teachers and administration worked with me to keep me from falling behind.”
Christy became stronger, and her health improved over the years. After graduating from Homewood High School, she attended college at UAB, where she earned an Art History degree. She joined a sorority and made a ton of friends and started to become active in the Birmingham Arts community. She launched her career working for artist Marilyn Wilson in Forest Park until Marilyn’s retirement, then Christy became an artist on her own. Christy makes custom jewelry from vintage paper, resin and vintage literary books. She frequently sold her jewelry at Birmingham Art Shows as well as the West Homewood Farmer’s Market, along with her homemade artisan jams. She now sells her pieces online.
The convenience of living in West Homewood has allowed Christy to remain active with the organizations she holds near and dear, such as the Children’s Hospital telethon and Lyric Theater. Christy helped the Alabama Theater create its first Junior Board and was active on that board for years. She currently serves on the Sidewalk Film Festival Screening Committee who is responsible for screening hundreds of submissions before the festival resumes this year. She is thankful that she has been able to continue her work on this committee since Covid has taken so much from her.
Surviving a Pandemic
“Covid has been my worst nightmare. Since I suffer from chronic respiratory disease, I have no choice but to remain at home, living life in isolation with my two dogs since last March. I could die from Covid.” Christy has made it through the year with the help of her parents who have also quarantined and stayed safe so they could spend time with her. Being quarantined alone has taken a toll on her mental health, but she believes it’s been worth it because she and her parents have not gotten Covid. She has survived the year by reading books, watching tons of movies and tv, learning how to sew, and engaging her friends and community through social media, Facetime and Zoom.
Before Covid, Christy had begun the steps towards getting a lung transplant. She went through the system evaluation in January 2020, but the process came to a halt once the lockdowns began. Thankfully, the evaluation process resumed last summer, but she is not currently listed. She is now on oxygen 24/7 and hopes to begin rehab soon to strengthen her lungs before a possible transplant. “I now have hope because this process is starting again, and I have been vaccinated. It will be strange getting back out into the world, but I plan to be semi-quarantined until the end of the summer. I was very social pre-Covid, going to concerts, art events and fundraisers, and I am going to have to ease myself back in to living life.”
Christy’s heart and home will forever be in West Homewood. This community has helped her through the hardest times in her life. She has witnessed the evolution of this community over the years, and to her, the future of West Homewood looks bright. Her hope is that we will continue to make progress and embrace diversity. And if she could have it her way, that future would include a neighborhood bookstore in the heart of it all.
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