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Patient Stories

 


Mariline's Story   

Last March, Mariline began having severe headaches and heart palpitations that frightened her. She was having serious side effects from an over-the-counter weight loss product, but without health insurance she did not know where to turn for help.

When she shared her concerns, a friend told her about the Weisman AmeriCares Free Clinic of Bridgeport and made her an appointment. During her first visit to the clinic, a nurse practitioner established a care regimen for the 32-year-old Bridgeport resident that included an alternative weight loss plan, a healthy body mass index goal, and Vitamin D supplements. Mariline immediately stopped taking the diet pill, drastically altered her diet and started exercising regularly, including Zumba classes.

Over the next year, the clinic staff and volunteers served as her support system while providing her with healthy eating tips and monitoring her blood pressure and weight. Thanks to their encouragement, Mariline has been able to lose over 55 pounds and is no longer at high risk for hypertension and diabetes.

“Before I came to the clinic I had bad, bad back pain and sometimes I couldn’t stand – my knees were very painful,” she said. “Now everything is ok; everything is great. I feel great in my skin.”

Mariline is so appreciative of the AmeriCares staff for empowering her to change her lifestyle. Due to the personalized, quality care she received, she now brings her mother to the clinic. 

“They motivated me to continue to do what I was doing,” Mariline said. “I am very happy with the care I received.”

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Frederico's Story   

When he was only 21 years old, Frederico began feeling pain in his right leg, but he didn’t know what to do. He lived with the pain for more than a year, until one day while roughhousing with his brother, the pain around his knee became so excruciating that he couldn’t bear it any longer. A friend searched the internet and found the Boehringer Ingelheim AmeriCares Free Clinic of Danbury.

“I just thought it was something that could be fixed by going to a store and getting medicines over-the-counter, but that didn’t work,” he said.

On his first visit to the clinic in February 2009, the staff saw the large mass on his leg and Frederico was immediately referred to Danbury Hospital for an MRI scan. The results were scary – he was told he had a tumor that was destroying the bone and muscle in his leg. His brother started to cry when he heard the news, and Frederico was shocked.

Dina Valenti, Danbury clinic director, went to work. Through her persistence an appointment was made with an orthopedic surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital in a matter of days. The surgery quickly followed and to everyone’s relief the tumor was not malignant. It was a rare but aggressive non-cancerous tumor occurring in one person per million per year. Frederico was a textbook case and after “scooping out” the giant cell tumor which had invaded his bone and damaged the muscle, he received extensive physical therapy and follow up to restore his mobility through the clinic and Danbury Hospital.

“I couldn’t walk. I don’t know what could have happened if I didn’t find AmeriCares,” Frederico said as he shared his story with us while standing on his two legs, healthy again. “AmeriCares was there for me and I’m so grateful and appreciative for everything they did and still do.”

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Michael's Story   

A year after he was laid off, Michael noticed his weight was inching up on the scale and he was experiencing headaches more often. He wanted to see a doctor, but couldn’t afford to visit a private practice.

“There were red flags. I needed to have it looked at, but I didn’t have any insurance,” said the divorced father of two grown children.

Searching the internet for low-cost medical care near his home in Stratford, he came across the Weisman AmeriCares Free Clinic of Bridgeport. The volunteer doctor who examined him on his first visit diagnosed him with hypertension and came up with a treatment plan that included diet and exercise changes, along with medication. Within three months Michael’s blood pressure was under control and the headaches were gone.

“Without the clinic, who knows what would have happened. I could have had a stroke,” said Michael, 49. “I’m so grateful to have volunteer doctors who give their time for people like me who have fallen on hard times.”

Impressed by the quality of care he received and the personal interest the volunteers took in his health, Michael made a commitment to do everything in his power to improve his condition. He cut salty foods out of his diet, including all fast food, and began exercising regularly at home with a workout DVD.

“I can’t change my age or my family history, but I can change my weight,” he said. One year later, he is 30 pounds lighter and feels younger. His ultimate goal is to get his blood pressure low enough that he can stop taking medication and once again donate blood.

“I had never been without a job or without health insurance before,” Michael said. “If it wasn’t for the clinic, I probably would have ended up in the emergency room or piled up with doctors’ bills.”

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Patricia's Story  

For years, Patricia, a bus monitor for special needs children, coped with high blood pressure and emphysema, making it a struggle to breathe. As a divorced single mother of two, she was without health insurance and couldn’t afford her medications.

“It got to the point where the insurance was $700 a month and I just couldn’t afford it anymore,” said Patricia, 55, of Danbury.

After maxing out her credit cards paying for her prescriptions, she stopped taking the medicines. In constant contact with young children, and with a weakened immune system, she fell ill last fall. What had started out as a small head cold quickly turned into serious sinus infections, and difficulty breathing to the point where she could barely get out of bed.

“I was sick from September to February,” she said. “Respiratory problems, sinus infections — it was a nightmare.”

A co-worker told her about the Boehringer Ingelheim AmeriCares Free Clinic. Not accustomed to taking charity, she refused to make an appointment. When her co-worker went behind her back and made her an appointment, she finally conceded. As soon as the clinic nurses saw Patricia, they sent her to the hospital for an X-ray and she was diagnosed with severe bronchitis.

Thanks to the clinic, she was seen by a pulmonologist and recovered from her infections. The clinic also helped her receive prescription medications.

 “They have been a godsend,” Patricia said. “Every time I go in, I tell the nurses that I don’t know where I would be without them."

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Siu Lu's Story     

Siu Lu began having shortness of breath and muscle pain in the summer of 2010. At first the 26-year-old thought an allergy problem was to blame, but then she began losing weight. She was shedding pounds rapidly, dropping 40 pounds in three months, and she feared the problem could be more serious. So she went to the AmeriCares Free Clinic in Norwalk – her only source of health care since she moved to Norwalk from Costa Rica nine years ago. A college student who works full-time as a nanny to pay tuition, she cannot afford to purchase private health insurance.

Since 2005 the clinic’s volunteer doctors had done a good job of helping her control her diabetes with diet and exercise, so Siu Lu was hopeful they could figure out what was wrong. After a battery of tests and a weeklong stay at Norwalk Hospital, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Now with treatment, including medication, she is back in good health again.

Siu Lu was blown away by the clinic team’s determination to find out what was making her so ill.

“They called the doctors at the hospital and they helped me until they found out what it was,” she said. “They really care about you. The people there are now like family to me. I’m very thankful for AmeriCares Free Clinics because they are the ones who have treated me all these years for my diabetes and helped me through a frightening health scare. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

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Helster's Story    

After Helster lost her job in 2008, the 55-year-old diabetic with thyroid problems delayed medical care because she could not afford it. The grandmother of five still works per diem as a nursing assistant, but she does not have health benefits.

Her vision had been deteriorating for months, and she was having trouble driving at night, when a frightening episode behind the wheel one sunny day jolted her into action.

"I was driving and the sun glare just hit me," Helster recalled. "It was so incredibly painful and blinding, like something with sharp, rough edges poked me in the left eye."

She mentioned the vision problems to her physician at the Weisman AmeriCares Free Clinic of Bridgeport, who suspected cataracts. He scheduled her for an eye exam the following week with Dr. Arnold Pearlstone, our volunteer ophthalmologist, who determined she needed surgery.

The clinic then connected her with Dr. Brian DeBroff, an eye surgeon with offices in Stratford and New Haven, who agreed to perform cataract surgery at a discounted rate and arranged for the surgery center to reduce its fees.

Within weeks of the diagnosis, Helster had the cataract removed. The surgeon set up a payment plan that allows her to pay off her portion of the bill over 10 months. If it wasn't for the AmeriCares clinic, Helster said she probably would have delayed the procedure until she could pay for it in full. Helster also said she was impressed with the time and the effort the clinic staff and volunteers spent ensuring she received the care she needed.

"Everyone treated me so very well. I could feel the compassion and I could feel the care coming from their hearts," she said. "The vision in my left eye is improving and I am following my doctor's orders as instructed.  AmeriCares you made a difference and I thank you so very much!"

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