Take a look at just some of the stories from our neighbors, friends and community members who got the help they needed at Volunteers In Medicine. Give the gift of health by donating or volunteering today.
A patient story: treating the whole patient at VIM
Free from pain: VIM patient Tami Parrish
Mother of three ignores illnesses—until VIM
When Judith Aldana first came to Volunteers In Medicine Clinic, she had not seen a doctor for more than a year. Judith had lost her health insurance when the restaurant she was working for became a franchise and no longer offered health benefits. As a mother of three children ages 15, 13, and 11, she knew she needed to stay healthy. She already was working out three times a week and eating well.
“With not having insurance, you have to make sure you stay healthy, because one illness can really hurt,” Judith says. When ill, she self-medicated with over-the counter medications to avoid doctors’ fees.
Her first visit to VIM, Judith sought care for a lingering flu. She was grateful to find VIM because her status as a part-time student of health care administration did not provide better access to health care.
By last October, though, Judith started needing naps soon after she arose each morning. She marked it down to the pressures of a busy schedule: mother, college student, and part-time worker with Office Team.
“I was always tired, and took a couple of naps a day,” Judith says. “I thought I was staying up too late, or getting up too early. I always brushed it off.”
When she started to feel heart flutters, Judith says she could no longer ignore her symptoms. A visit to the VIM clinic revealed she had severe anemia. She was scheduled for an immediate blood transfusion.
Judith has changed her whole diet, with lots of vitamins, supplements, and foods to counteract her anemia while more investigation into her illness is made. Because VIM has specialists who volunteer, in addition to primary care doctors, Judith is able to see a cardiologist at the clinic. She says she wants to take care of this, but without VIM, the cost of care would have been prohibitive.
“I would have had to pay out of pocket to see a specialist,” Judith says. “And really, I just don’t know how I could have afforded it at all.”
From patient to volunteer: the desire to give back
Since 1993, Michael has owned his own business, and he’s also deeply connected to the local music scene, having booked bands for such events as the Eugene Celebration and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, as well as run stage management for others. Michael made the arrangements for music at VIM’s Volunteer Appreciation event held this September.
As a small businessman, Michael has never had medical insurance, because of the high cost.
“What I did before was try not to get sick,” he says. “I just would treat myself as best I could because there was nowhere to go.” Because of his income, Michael did not qualify for the Oregon Health Plan.
When Michael came to VIM because of a growth on his cheek, a blood test led to a diagnosis of diabetes. Through VIM’s Diabetes Education and Management Program, patients such as he get lifestyle counseling to support adjustments in lifestyle and eating habits for better management of the disease.
As well, patients get free testing strips, other supplies and medicines they need to manage their disease, but can cost in the hundreds of dollars each month.
But there was a bigger problem Michael had been living with for years, a knee injury that left him hobbled, often laid up from the pain, and walking with a cane.
“I was using a cane all the time before the surgery, for almost two and half years. I was in constant pain and flat on my back, living on the couch, literally, for eight weeks after the wrenching,” Michael says.
VIM worked as his liaison to get him the specialty care he needed, and in September 2010, he had arthroscopic surgery.
“My knee is fine, and I can go backpacking again, and that’s why I moved here,” he says. “I finally put the cane away. It sits by the front door.”
Michael’s love for hiking was on hold for years, even as he lived up the McKenzie River. When he moved to Springfield last December, one of the first things he did was sign up to volunteer at VIM. For almost a year, Michael has volunteered as a screener, reviewing paperwork to ensure individuals are eligible for our services.
“These people at VIM have done so much for me, this is the least I can do,” Michael says. “I can’t afford to make donations, but I can certainly give them some of my time.”
Working around illness only option—until this carpenter found VIM
Bob Walter, Carpenter and VIM Patient four years ago, no one was making the connection between Bob Walter’s lagging health and thyroid-removal surgery a few years before. Walter was on hormone replacement medication, and had had no ill effect after the surgery. He traveled to California only one week after for his granddaughter’s birth. Everything seemed fine.
When Bob started failing, it had already been a rough year: one of his daughter died of ovarian cancer, and the physiological manifestations of thyroid imbalance greatly imitate other illnesses, as the hormones affect almost every cell of the body. The imbalance can strike multiple body systems, as well as mimic depression: great swings in energy level and a sense of defeat.
A carpenter for more than 20 years and at the time a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, Bob kept working despite feeling sometimes “like a bag of sand sliced with a razor. I was getting terribly weak.” His energy would suddenly unplug, and there were floods of weakness. The illness started to dominate daily life.
“My insides were a mess, swollen and bloated, my hair was falling out, and I couldn’t work,” Walter says. “I wasn’t operating at any level, even mentally. I started to blank out, and my personality started to wither.”
Blood work and CAT scans were done to rule out cancer, which there was none. Once cancer was ruled out, Walter says VIM’s medical director reviewed his entire case history and figured out the connection to his thyroid.
Walter had had his thyroid removed because of tumors. He was able to make the insurance payments up until about a year after the surgery, but then the costs of insurance outran his income, and paying for the follow up on his own became too expensive: There was regular labs and the visits to doctors, in addition to daily medications. Walter sought out VIM, having read about it, and met eligibility because of his income.
Within a few weeks, Walter’s medications were adjusted, and many of the symptoms went away. But the process for finding the right balance of hormone intake took many more months. Without VIM, Walter would not have been able to get the medical attention he needed to gain back his health.
“I’ve always been profoundly self-sufficient,” Walter said. “I’ve never been in the system, getting food stamps.”
Like many other patients, as his health sunk, Walter continued to work and avoided people to try to deal with his health problems himself.
“It changes your whole nature and your relationship to people,” Walter says. “I began to not make phone calls to people. I didn’t want to worry them.”
Even as Walter continues now in his work, and the carpentry jobs have rolled in this summer, he doesn’t earn enough to afford insurance. But he needs monitoring, as with many chronic diseases like diabetes, that are influenced by the variables of life and medications need adjustments on a continual basis for him to remain working. Walter returns to the clinic at least monthly to get his levels checked.
Walter is thankful that VIM was there to sort out his health problems, and even offer the short-term counseling he needed to get back on track, at a time when he felt vulnerable. With patients of chronic illness there is often an element of convincing people that there is an illness, that something is wrong.
“The clinic staff have treated me very respectfully and conscientiously,” Walter says, “and I’m glad they are there. In the waiting room, I’ve seen the population being served. And to think of those people not being served is incredible. To have an organization like VIM, that is the way it should be. There should always be a resource like that.”
Radio DJ gets help for long-term maintenance of diabetes
Manuel has been employed for the past 37 years and had health insurance for at least 30 of them.
“Radio has changed so much, with not many part-time jobs, and the people who have them hanging on for dear life,” he says.
Manuel has three grown children (and five grandchildren), two of whom live in Eugene, and one who lives in Portland, where Manuel worked for 12 years in radio before he moved his family to Eugene. Known on the air as Andy Manuel, he has worked in radio for most of his adult life and at full-time, until he was let go by a local media company and then re-hired at part-time, so the company does not pay benefits.
“I can’t say enough good things about VIM,” Manuel says. “They give you the time. You go into a regular doctor, and if you have more than one thing, they don’t have the time. [VIM’s medical director] is just awesome, and every nurse and the diabetic educator who worked with me has been fabulous.”
At VIM, Manuel received diabetic education workshops when he was diagnosed as diabetic, to learn how to manage his disease. He also receives the medication necessary to maintain his quality of life on a daily basis. He receives his medication, valued at $129 per month, he says, through the Patient Assistance Program that VIM manages to connect patients with pharmaceutical giving programs that provide low-income patients their medications free.
As well, when Manuel started suffering from a pinched nerve in his shoulder, VIM referred him to doctors to take care of the problem, as well as provided treatment for his chronic pain during that time.
“I can’t say enough good things about VIM. I’d be dead without them,” Manuel says. I don’t know how people survive without some kind of medical care. I went through some emotional stuff [while I was suffering from pain], and they gave me a positive feeling, that there would be an end to it.”