Patty Arnold will probably never use the handbag she carried with her Nov. 6.
That was the day she was robbed of more than $1,100 -- money to be used for her husband's double lung transplant.
"I've always been so trusting," Patty, 71, said. "I always thought that it would happen to someone else; it wouldn't happen to me."
But she was wrong. Patty gave a stranger in Hickory a ride in her vehicle Nov. 6, and the stranger jumped out of the car, taking Patty's money with her.
Patty and her husband, Ken, 70, live in Newton and have been married for 50 years. They've had their share of ups and downs, including Ken's upcoming double lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center in Durham.
American Legion Post 48 honored Ken, a U.S. Air Force veteran, with a "Pass the Hat" fundraiser, which raised several hundred dollars for the Arnolds' expenses.
The surgery is costly, but Ken and Patty must also pay for accommodations while staying in Durham, which could last months.
On the day of the larceny, Patty carried in her purse money donated from the American Legion, as well as her checkbook, debit cards, a Belk gift card, driver's license and Social Security information.
She and Ken were picking up one of their vehicles, which needed to be serviced from a mechanic.
Patty came upon a car stopped at a red light near the 1500 block of Tate Boulevard SE in Hickory. The vehicle's emergency lights were flashing, and Patty assumed the driver had car trouble. She merged into another lane to avoid the stopped car and stopped beside the vehicle to wait for the light to turn green.
A woman exited the stopped car and asked Patty for a ride up the hill to her home. Patty's generous, helpful nature took over, and she let the woman ride in the back seat -- where Patty's purse was sitting.
"I thought, 'It's right here at dusk, and it's drizzling,'" Patty said. "So I said, 'Get in.'"
Patty drove the woman a few blocks to where a van was parked near a dead end street. The woman in the back seat suddenly said, "Oh no, she's leaving," and got out of the car and into the van, which drove away.
Ken, who remained behind Patty's car, saw the whole incident. Immediately, he recognized something was wrong.
"She didn't run like women normally run," Ken said. "She had her arms holding her stomach."
The Arnolds later realized the woman probably held her stomach as she ran to prevent the contents of Patty's purse from spilling onto the road.
Patty and Ken continued with their evening and ate dinner at a fast food restaurant. Patty didn't pay for the meal, so she didn't notice her wallet was missing. Only later did she realize her wallet, cash, checkbook and debit card were gone.
"When I found out I didn't have any money, I was just hysterical," Patty said. "I've cried so many times. I've helped people before, and I thought I was too smart to be taken (advantage of)."
Patty and Ken contacted police about 7 p.m. that night, and a Hickory Police officer helped the couple scour the neighborhood for the white van that picked up the alleged culprit. They weren't successful in locating the van or the woman.
"It could have been somebody's friend or somebody's daughter-in-law -- someone who didn't live in the area," Patty said. "We just don't know."
The Arnolds don't know if the larceny was a set up, or simply a crime of opportunity. What they do know, however, is that they needed the money.
Just when the situation seemed dire for Patty and Ken, their children came to the rescue. They have one foster son and four biological children, and without their support, Patty said she would be lost.
"They all chipped in money," Patty said, wiping tears from her eyes. "We're just so thankful."
Ken's physician at the VA Hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Kuch, donated $100 to open an account for Ken's expenses.
"Anything anyone can donate would be greatly appreciated," Patty said.
Donations can be made at BB&T to Kenneth Arnold, Double Lung Transplant, BB&T, 2004 N. Main Ave. in Newton, N.C. 28658.