Whenever a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic encounters a patient with a medical problem we can’t immediately address at the Clinic, we record their contact information so that our local staff can get in touch the following week. From there, MEDLIFE will do whatever it takes to help the patient receive adequate medical treatment. We have no restrictions on the types of follow-up work we engage in, meaning that we are able to assist individuals and families with any and all medical problems they face.
Our team of interns in Lima recently had the opportunity to visit one of our follow-up patients to talk about her experiences since we first encountered her on a Mobile Clinic. Here’s her story, as written by summer intern Minnie Dasgupta:
Meet Elka – a 23 year old woman living in a small green house in the rocky hills of Pamplona Alta, miles outside of Lima’s metropolitan center. She shares her two-room home with her grandmother, grandfather, mother, and two young children. As is often the case in communities such as Pamplona Alta, Elka’s family has not received a great deal of support from the father of her children.
For three long years after the birth of her first child, she ignored a number of vaginal symptoms and convinced herself that nothing was wrong. But when she heard about the chance to receive a free Pap smear, she took action and visited a MEDLIFE Mobile Clinic in September 2010. (though the local Ministry of Health medical posts also provide a limited number of Pap smears, Elka did not have the government-sponsored insurance plan at this time).
Her fears were confirmed when she received the results of her Pap smear 15 days later; they showed significant vaginal infection but did not specify the exact cause. Accompanied by MEDLIFE Peru staff member Carlos Benavides, Elka headed to Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in Lima for her first of many visits. She explained to us that since there are only two oncologists in the entire hospital, patients have to arrive around 4:00 or 5:00 AM to secure a visit with a specialist. After a long wait, she met with the oncologist who ordered her another Pap smear and biopsy. The results of the biopsy showed abnormal cell growth, likely associated with HPV (Human Papillomavirus). After years of pain and hesitant curiosity, her problem had finally been identified.
In the four months that followed, MEDLIFE staff accompanied Elka to the hospital for a total of 12 visits. Her treatment involved various medications, followed by a surgical LEEP procedure that successfully removed the abnormal tissue from her cervix. Though her insurance covered the cost of her hospital visits, she was required to pay for both the medicine and expense of her operation. Elka emphasized that without the support of MEDLIFE, she would not have been able to afford these added costs.
Now, many months later, Elka is doing well. She goes in for a Pap smear every 6 months to ensure her cervical health. She openly recommends Pap smears to other women in her community, convincing them not to be afraid by sharing her own experience. We hope that her story will inspire and educate other women to come out to MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics, and obtain the healthcare services they both need and deserve.
Watch the video below to hear Elka describe her experience in her own words:
Thanks, Minnie! Since receiving MEDLIFE follow-up treatment, Elka has also appeared as a community spokesperson in a MEDLIFE health education video, encouraging other women to have a Pap smear exam taken on our Mobile Clinic. MEDLIFE has also constructed a set of stairs in Elka’s community, replacing the steep dirt path outside of her home with a safe, concrete walkway. Such a project would not have been possible if MEDLIFE staff such as Carlos hadn’t developed a strong relationship with Elka during their follow-up visits. We’re proud to have staff and interns so dedicated towards getting to know the patients we serve!
Text by Minnie Dasgupta, Photos by Zenobia Gonsalves, Video by Lindsay Bigda