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Denise Truax’s office in Bowie is decorated with inspirational quotes and family photos.
She’s lived in the small north Texas town her whole life and raised her family here, too. They’ve had a lot of good moments in Bowie. But they’ve had heartbreaking times that are hard to forget.
“I remember the night my little nephew was so sick,” Truax recalled. “It was Halloween. It was so dreary, so foggy.”
Truax’s 9-week-old nephew was taken to Bowie Memorial Hospital that night in 2015. Since he was so young, Truax said he’d recently had the usual tests and exams done to ensure he was healthy, and everything was fine.
However, the doctor treating him that night noticed something in her nephew’s blood work results.
“They said, ‘We think this baby has cancer,’” said Truax. “I thought, ‘No.’ Who checks blood on a 9-week-old? Who hears of a 9-week-old having cancer?”
Her nephew was transferred to Cook’s Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth – more than an hour south of Bowie. The Emergency Medical Service (EMS) with Cook’s was able to come to Bowie to pick him up. Twelve hours later, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
“It hadn’t been picked up by anybody, to no fault of their own because who thinks about a 9-week-old having leukemia?” Truax explained. “It was tragic for our whole family.”
Even though the diagnosis was devastating for their family, Truax said she was grateful that the doctors in Bowie were able to find out what was wrong. They were told he would only live another two weeks, but she thinks Bowie’s doctors bought them more time.
Right when her family needed the hospital the most, Truax got more bad news.
“Then [the hospital] closed,” said Truax. “He was diagnosed around the first of November, and by November 5, Bowie Hospital had closed.”
With the hospital closed, Truax’s nephew continued to be treated in Fort Worth – an hour away from Bowie. Since they caught it early, he was able to see his first birthday – but died just one week after.
“Cook’s Children’s [Hospital] did everything they could for him,” said Truax. “We all got a little over a year with him. Losing a child, for my niece and my brother because he was my brother’s grandson, is traumatic. It was tragic for our whole family.”
Residents in Bowie and surrounding communities are at risk without their hospital. After facing years of financial trouble, it closed once in 2015, and reopened briefly before closing again in 2020.
The community of 5,000 residents no longer has immediate access to healthcare – a trend seen in many rural towns across Texas.
American Public Media Research Lab data shows that 24 rural hospitals have closed in Texas since 2005 – the most of any state in the U.S.
When the hospital closed in 2015, Truax said the community was devastated.
“The sadness, I mean, that was historical,”