Gary Warwick was going through a rough patch.

The 62-year-old Charlotte man had been doing electrical work until he became disabled two years ago. Once he was no longer getting a paycheck, he became homeless. When you don’t have a job or a place to live, you’re less concerned with your health and more concerned with finding a place to sleep at night.

While living at the Howard Levine Men’s Shelter on Statesville Avenue, he met Annie Schwartz, a nurse advocate with Nurses Serving Our Neighbors, a nonprofit organization serving Charlotte’s most vulnerable patients. Schwartz and Roof Above healthcare workers hold blood pressure clinics in the shelter, triage residents and notify clinicians at one of two Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinics in Charlotte when they meet someone who needs urgent medical attention.

Dr. David Baker

Schwartz met Warwick in March 2022, and referred him to Dr. David Baker III, a family physician at Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic - North End.

"Mr. Warwick had a combination of problems, including terrible shortness of breath,” Baker recalled. “He had been prescribed some inhalers that helped his breathing. But he had never gotten a formal diagnosis of COPD, which, along with childhood asthma, was completely out of control. At the same time, he was complaining of exertional chest pain, which had me worried about heart disease. I recommended he start taking aspirin (for his heart) and referred him urgently to our cardiologist.”

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Warwick had been feeling “run-down,” but he had no idea how serious his condition was. The cardiologist discovered he had a blockage and scheduled a minimally invasive stenting procedure to open it up.

“Words can't even explain,” Warwick said. “I think God sent me this blessing. I probably wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for Dr. Baker. That's the truth. I had visited some clinics before, but I wasn’t satisfied with them. I never got referrals to specialists. When I came here, Dr. Baker knew right off there was a problem with my heart. He knew I had digestive problems. And he’s done everything he could to get me to the right place, to the right specialist. I feel like I owe my life to him.”

All happening at once

When the two first met, Warwick had recently been to an ER for bloody stools. There, he had CT scans that showed some inflammation, but he hadn’t been able to get follow-up care. “I tried to figure out his breathing, his heart and his colon – it was all happening at once,” Baker said. “We had to prioritize.”

Warwick had severe coronary artery disease, but doctors got him stabilized. “We kept him from having a heart attack,” Baker said.

Warwick’s condition was that dire. “He was having the classic, pre-heart attack symptoms, and they were severe,” Baker said. “The problem was in his left anterior descending artery – the heart’s main ‘widow maker’ artery.”

The next order of business: sorting out Warwick’s financial situation. Baker doesn’t just care for his patients’ physical health. He and the team at the Michael Jordan Clinic also address help them find financial, medication, food and housing assistance. The clinic community health worker helped Warwick get Novant Health financial assistance to cover his care. Baker and the team at Roof Above then helped Warwick get disability, Medicaid and Social Security.

His heart condition was being managed, but Warwick’s severe abdominal pain persisted. Baker and other doctors thought inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis were likely culprits.

Warwick returned to the ER with intussusception – a “condition where the bowel kind of folds in on itself,” Baker said. “It usually happens if there’s a tumor present.”

That finding was a game changer. There was a tumor in Warwick’s lower colon, and it was the source of his pain.
Warwick required emergency surgery. He had cancer, but fortunately, it hadn’t spread. He didn’t need chemo or radiation.

Coming to Wilmington

Two Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinics are being built in Wilmington, his hometown, thanks to Jordan’s latest $10 million gift. Crews broke ground on the first in October 2022 at 1410 S. 15th St., on the corner shared with Greenfield Street. It will open in early 2024. The second clinic will be at 3009 Princess Place Drive, on the corner shared with North 30th Street.

In service to others

Baker, a Charlotte native and product of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, is doing exactly what he’s always felt called to do.

While he was a Davidson College student, he worked a summer job with Faith Ministry building houses on the U.S./Mexico border. The medical component of the ministry made him realize he wanted to “be in service to other people.” Medicine, specifically primary care, felt like the right combination of science and softer skills.

“I’m interested in building long-term relationships with patients,” he said. “After my residency, my wife and I wanted to come home to Charlotte. When I learned of the Michael Jordan Clinic and its mission of providing care to people who hadn't had good access to it – and learned that it had the support of a major healthcare system – it was a dream. I got the job and started in September 2020.”

Baker was made for the job. He understands his patients may be leery of the healthcare system and puts in the time to build trust. “Many of our patients have been passed over for a long time or haven’t had people looking out for them,” he said. “So, I’m going to be responsive. I will be there if they need me and will reply if they get in touch with me.”

And simply getting in touch isn’t always easy for his patients. If you’re living in a shelter or on the street, “communication can be a real challenge,” he said. “Things – including cell phones – get stolen from the homeless. Or, people can’t afford to pay their phone bill and it gets cut off.”

That’s not the only challenge. “There’s often a huge gap in health literacy or literacy overall,” Baker said. “After they’ve seen a specialist, patients sometimes have even more questions. I’ll often find myself pulling up the specialist’s notes and trying to simplify them a little.”

A place of his own

Warwick’s health – and life – have improved dramatically under Baker’s care.

He’s now working on smoking cessation. “He’s wanted to quit for a long time,” Baker said. “But it’s been hard with the stressors of the shelter. He was there for two-and-a-half years. Now, he’s in permanent supportive housing through Roof Above. When I last saw him Oct. 9, we talked a lot about how nice it is to have his own place and how much better he’s able to take care of himself.”

With Baker’s guidance, Warwick’s life has fallen into place. “I feel much better than I did when I first came here,” he said. “If I ever have a bad day, I can send Dr. Baker a message. He always gets back to me and tells me what to do. And if it’s real serious, he’ll make an appointment for me the next day. If I ever have a crisis, he’s there.”


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