When 9-year-old Izzie Abbott heard the story about an elderly man who wanted desperately to be with his hospitalized wife, she found it heart-warming.
The couple had been married for over 60 years, but due to COVID-19 regulations, the husband was not allowed to visit her. The distraught man said he was ready to join the guy who was tenting in front of Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
That guy in front of Providence happened to be Izzie’s grandfather, Marvin Abbott, who was making a statement about seeing his daughter, Rachelle Abbott, Izzie’s mother. Rachelle had been medevaced to Anchorage from Kodiak on Sept. 6.
“My mama had an asthma attack and went into cardiac arrest and respiratory failure,” said Izzie. “She had to be taken to the hospital.”
Marvin knew that as long as the COVID restrictions were in place, he would not be able to visit Rachelle at Providence where she was sent.
When Marvin talked with radio journalist Rhonda McBride, to tell her of his plight, she said — perhaps tongue-in-cheek — that he should camp out in front of the hospital to get attention.
“I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’” Marvin said. “I came up to Anchorage and met up with Rachelle’s best friend, Ryan Weems, and told him what I was up to.”
Ryan agreed to stay with Marvin.
“I came up with a sleeping bag and he got a sleeping bag. That first night, we slept on the lawn,” Marvin said.
Marvin had brought a colorful sign — made by Bases Loaded in Kodiak — that told his story: “Let Me See Her.”
On his second night on the Providence lawn, Marvin and Ryan were given a double-bottle propane heater and a couple of bottles of propane by a passer-by.
“It was one of the best things people bought us. We got a lot of use out of it,” Marvin said.
Others also brought propane bottles. One gentleman pulled up and gave Marvin five 100 dollar bills.
“That was one of first donations I received,” he said.
People were made aware of Marvin’s campaign through driving by, word of mouth, and television and radio anchors who also told the story.
One of the radio listeners brought a motor home and parked it in the parking lot for Tyler, Rachelle’s brother, to stay in.
For awhile it looked like Marvin’s camping days were over.
“Providence security told us that we couldn’t stay on the lawn,” Marvin said.
But one of the city workers pointed out that there was a city easement, and security had no control over it.
“He said, ‘As long as you’re no more than 6 feet from the sidewalk, you’re okay.’ We moved down to the edge of the grass, so there was nothing Providence security could do to us,” Marvin said.
Ultimately, Marvin was able to visit Rachelle, but the time with his precious daughter was too brief.
Day after day, people stopped by to offer their assistance. Some of them prayed with Marvin. A police officer brought him a cup of coffee. One morning, representatives of Taco King brought him a few meals. One family brought money to him. Another man delivering a meal gave Marvin a note saying he was backing him up.
“The support was incredible,” Marvin said.
He said that one day “this exquisite gentleman stopped by. He really spoke with authority. He looked like he was out of a Mary Poppins movie. He had a handlebar mustache, an all-white beard.
“He asked me to take a walk with him. He said he was an atheist for years. (After) something happened to one of his kids, he was walking by a church and he walked in and told the Lord, ‘If you fix this problem, I’ll worship you the rest of my life. I’ll preach your name, I’ll serve you.’ The Lord fixed his problem. He’s serving the Lord. He told me ... (that) you can make a deal with the Lord, but if you do, you have to hold up your end and serve Him. He said, ‘When you ask the Lord, ask big, because He will provide.’”
Someone wondered if this man might have been an angel.
“He just kind of came out of nowhere,” Marvin said.
In another incident, “me and a couple of others were sitting on the lawn. One guy prayed, ‘Lord, show us a sign.’”
At that moment, two nuns from Providence “came walking across the parking lot to talk to us,” Marvin said.
They were concerned about the comfort of Marvin and his friends.
Marvin was also visited by Bill Pagaran, a drummer for Broken Walls and head of the Carry the Cure ministry.
Marvin camped on the Providence grounds for one month. Then Rachelle got transferred to Alaska Native Medical Center.
Marvin was pleased to hear an ANMC doctor’s recommendation that he visit his daughter as often as possible.
“He said, ‘She needs to see you, feel you.’ That was good. I was getting to see her on a daily basis for a couple of hours,” Marvin said.
Marvin didn’t have to sleep on the ANMC lawn. Because of the influence of Andy Teuber, then-president of the Kodiak Area Native Association, Marvin, Izzie and his mother, Lydia Olsen, were able to stay in hospital housing.
Just as matters seemed to be improving, Rachelle came down with COVID at the beginning of November.
“She got put back into ICU and was quarantined, so I was not allowed to see her again,” Marvin said.
Realizing Rachelle’s respiratory problems, Marvin thought that the COVID would be deadly.
“But the Lord has provided since this (ordeal) started,” he said.
Dealing with COVID was just another battle that Rachelle would have to wage. Marvin and Lydia call her a Warrior.
Rachelle had been dealing with the grief of losing her mother, Sheila Abbott, in June of 2020.
This sweet, mild-mannered young lady has an iron constitution. When she was 10, she fell off a 13-foot structure on Mill Bay Beach onto concrete, breaking her jaw, arm and leg. In spite of her injuries, Rachelle was determined to get active. Rachelle showed that toughness and resilience as a crew member on boats.
One of the boats Rachelle fished on last summer had problem after problem.
“They weren’t little problems, they were huge problems,” Marvin said.
“She would call me and tell me, ‘Dad this is going on, that is going on,’” he said.
When Marvin told Rachelle, “I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time,” she said, “No, dad. It’s awesome; I love it. There’s always something happening and it’s so exciting.”
“They lost their anchor, and she thought it was the greatest thing: They’re getting towed in by a tug boat,” Marvin said.
When Rachelle fished on a Bristol Bay drift gillnetter for the first time, her boss “couldn’t believe she had never done that before,” Marvin said. “He said she was better than some of the seasoned deck hands. He said she ran that boat all by herself and did a great job.”
While Rachelle recovered from COVID, Marvin and his cousin, Jimmy Dawson, went to Florida where they prepared a house that Marvin owned for rental. Lydia, her daughter Nina and Izzie, joined them later.
Shortly after Marvin, his mother and Izzie returned to Anchorage, all three came down with COVID.
“I absolutely hated it,” Izzie said.
Suffering from COVID “was like a nightmare out of the movies,” Marvin said. “It was horrible — one of worst experiences I’ve had. When mom was really ill in the quarantine house, and I wanted her to go hospital, they came, grabbed her in an ambulance and took her off. Everyone’s wearing masks, weird shields.”
“I barely remember going,” Lydia said.
Marvin started to improve to the point at which he was “able to “halfway take care” of his mother, he said. And there was someone else that Marvin wanted to take care of: his daughter, Rachelle — in the comfort of their very own home.
When Marvin opted to take his daughter out of the hospital, some, including doctors at ANMC, thought it was a good idea. But some felt that it was a serious mistake.
Marvin said, “Someone posted (on Facebook)what an attention-seeking person I was. ‘Does this nut job think he can heal his daughter?’”
But Marvin was determined. He went house-hunting in Anchorage.
“He looked at five or six places,” said Lydia, who was still fighting COVID at the time.
“One day he … said, ‘I really like this place I just looked at. It’s completely re-done,’” Lydia said.
She urged her son to get going with the application process since they soon would have to move out of the quarantine house at ANMC.
“Marvin was determined that, wherever they lived, Izzie was going to have a Christmas tree,” Lydia said.
The Abbotts were able to move into the house by Christmas, and Izzie was thrilled when her grandpa got her a snow-man Christmas tree.
The place was exactly what the Abbotts needed, but, unfortunately, they had no furniture.
“No dishes, nothing. I had been saving plastic forks,” Lydia said.
When Lydia posted pictures on Facebook of Izzie decorating the Christmas tree, a friend got hold of her to let her know that she noticed the bare living room, and that she had a couch for her.
The Abbotts were also assisted by a very dear friend of the Olsen family who lives in Eagle river.
Her mother had recently died and she invited Marvin and Lydia to take what they needed. They were given a bookshelf for Rachelle’s items, lots of kitchen utensils and other necessities.
Others, including Lydia’s family members, helped out in tremendous ways, Lydia said.
A young lady who Rachelle worked with at Tequila 61 set up a GoFundMe account, which raised enough money to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van.
Ryan Weems’ family donated a special-needs wheelchair that had been used by Ryan’s deceased uncle.
To the naysayers who doubted the efficacy of Rachelle being moved from institution to home, Marvin and Lydia said that Rachelle has improved significantly since she moved into the house.
One day when brother Tyler looked into her face and said “hi,” she stuck out her tongue at him.
Another time, as Marvin and Ryan were putting Rachelle in the wheelchair, the chair — without brakes to stop it — went back a few inches.
“That freaked Ryan out,” Marvin said. “But Rachelle just smiled at his reaction and “made us start smiling and laughing, (which) made her smile even more, almost in a laughing state,” Marvin said.
There are other signs that Rachelle is engaged with her environment.
On her first outing the day after the Abbotts got the van, “she was totally relaxed and never flinched once,” Lydia said.
While he was camping on the Providence grounds, Marvin posted a video that went viral. In it, he said the “real world” is not what it shown on TV. He invited people to “come down and sit with me and you’ll see the real world.”
“The biggest thing for me (in Rachelle’s ordeal) has been being able to see the goodness of the Lord work through so many people: family, friends and people we don’t even know,” Lydia said.
The story of Rachelle’s illness and recovery have the ingredients of one of those “can’t put down” books: acts of kindness, the pouring out of love even by strangers, a father’s dedication to his child, so-called chance encounters, a mysterious visitor who may have been an angel.
Rachelle’s loved ones look forward to and pray for the day when she will be able to write that book herself.