Food truck vendor serves up thanks for treatment

Jay FitzOur Town Health, West Knoxville

The year 2021 was memorable for John Gabriel, but not in a good way. Gabriel began the year with colon cancer surgery and ended the year hospitalized with Covid-19. He says his care at Parkwest Medical Center got him on the road to recovery from the virus and now he’s back in business.

Do you want fries with that?

When Gabriel’s job situation changed eight years ago and the company he worked for moved to the Philippines, it was time to follow a new career path. The Knoxville man decided to start a food truck business that was the second (and currently the oldest) to operate under the city’s new program allowing special zones for mobile food service.

“Based on the number of people that were hanging up on me when I would call them … I’d say they thought it was an unwise decision,” Gabriel jokes.

He’s been serving hamburgers and fries under the moniker Forks on the Road ever since. When Parkwest began opening a space for lunch grabs on Wednesdays, Gabriel put his food truck in the parking lot, meeting hospital employees and visitors on a regular basis.

He couldn’t have known that one day he would be inside the hospital, on oxygen and fighting to breathe.

An unwelcome Christmas event

Gabriel was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Christmas Eve 2021. It was an unwelcome Christmas present but his condition wasn’t severe enough to warrant hospitalization, so he rested at home. Gabriel struggled through the holiday, but as the year came to an end, his illness didn’t.

On the advice of a friend who is a physician, Gabriel went to the emergency department at Parkwest Medical Center on Dec. 29. He didn’t go home that night, or for several nights after that. From the emergency department he was transferred to a room on the second floor.

“I spent seven days there and it was nothing but phenomenal care,” Gabriel says.

Colon cancer and its treatment earlier in the year had compromised Gabriel’s immune system and he had developed diabetes long before Covid ever took hold of his body. This meant Gabriel needed especially watchful care. “The nurses checked on me every day, multiple times a day,” Gabriel says. “They did a phenomenal job regulating my sugar and making sure my oxygen levels were where they needed to be.”

While the hospital was busy with a surge of patients, Gabriel says his assigned day nurse, Morgan Jackson, RN, BSN, gave him individualized care with respect and dignity.

“Her approach to her job was just amazing,” Gabriel says. “She took the time to get to know me.”

After six days of care, he was ready to go home. Like many Covid survivors he carries remnants of the days he was sick, like low energy, occasional dizzy spells and what’s been referred to as “brain fog.” But Gabriel is out of the hospital and he’s living life again. He shares his story to show appreciation to the people who cared for him at Parkwest.

“I just had very, very good care the entire time I was there,” he says.

Looking back with gratitude

Today, Gabriel is back in business greeting hungry customers and serving up his all-American fare, sometimes among the food trucks at Parkwest Medical Center. He’s living life to the fullest near the hospital that gave his life back to him when his outlook was bleak.

“The folks at Parkwest … it’s not just a paycheck. They’re truly doing this because they have a calling to it,” Gabriel says. “God love them for being willing to do that.”

To learn more Parkwest Medical Center, visit

Parkwest nurse shares her view of the Covid-19 pandemic

Parkwest Medical Center nurse Morgan Jackson, RN, BSN, first heard about Covid-19 during her last semester of nursing school. She understood that it was an especially aggressive virus, but couldn’t have anticipated just how vicious and relentless Covid-19 would be or the impact it would have on her life.

Morgan Jackson RN BSN

“It felt like in an instant, the whole world shut down,” Jackson says. “I truly never imagined it to last this long and cause devastation like it has.”

She launched her nursing career at Parkwest in July 2020, then was assigned to work with Covid patients in October 2021. Jackson found herself in the middle of a full-blown pandemic.

“Watching how fast patients declined from the virus and exhausting all treatment options was heart-wrenching,” Jackson says. “No class or textbook can ever prepare you to lose a patient, and we developed relationships with our Covid patients and families.”

Jackson is among the hundreds of nurses and other medical staff at Parkwest who leaned into the challenge, selflessly delivering excellent care to patients in a time of worldwide crisis. It was a challenge that pushed her to her limits, but she and her colleagues rose to the occasion during what has turned out to be a defining moment in medical history.

Jackson says the reasons she made it through the last few years were her faith in God, her family’s support and her work team, who she knew would be with her in especially difficult situations.

The virus that many assumed would dissipate in a few months continued to affect people throughout East Tennessee. Jackson joined the team during a surge caused by the Delta variant.

“The biggest challenge that nursing as a whole faced was the fact that this virus was brand new and we knew absolutely nothing about it,” Jackson says. “We were all terrified of what it was and how it would affect our population.”

Still, nurses like Jackson continued to follow their calling. Jackson not only delivered medical treatment, but became an advocate for patients who couldn’t speak for themselves.

“I tried to always remind myself that this is someone’s loved one,” Jackson says. “Especially during the times where no visitors were allowed, I would try to spend extra time making him or her as comfortable as possible.”

While treating patients like family, Jackson at times isolated herself from her own family to prevent the spread of the virus if she thought there was a chance she had been vulnerable. Talking to other nurses at Parkwest, surrounding herself with positive people and allowing herself some silence helped Jackson maintain balance, especially after particularly emotional cases.

Now that the number of hospitalizations has decreased, Jackson continues to rely on her faith, her family, coworkers and the lessons she has learned. She remains committed to delivering the best possible care every day.

“No matter what, I will put my patients first,” Jackson says.

Information provided by marketing department of Covenant Health


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