It was fall 2002, my first semester at Fordham University and I was so excited. My initial week was filled with nerves, rushing back and forth from Washington Heights to the Lincoln center campus, and one life changing phone call from my mom. I was expecting to hear, “Why haven’t you called me, how’s school going?” Instead, my mom’s started with, “Cathy, your father is in the hospital. You need to come home.”
My father immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the late 1970’s and quickly found a passion for cooking. He worked in delis and restaurants until he decided to move our family to the sunny skies of Orlando, Florida. He became an executive chef at an Italian restaurant where he immersed himself in his work and savored every dish he made.
In his early thirties, he was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes and was immediately prescribed oral medications in combination with Insulin therapy. I remember my sister and I waking up and finding my father in the middle of his 3-step morning routine. Step 1) finger glucose check Step 2) dose of insulin and oral medications Step 3) “un buen desayuno” (a hearty breakfast) and off to work.
My father followed this routine for over 20 years, always with a positive outlook and a smile on his face. Then in October 2002, while at work, he developed back pain, felt sick and drove himself to the ER. The emergency room doctors determined kidney failure and he was immediately started on dialysis. He was also found to have clogged arteries and underwent emergency triple bypass surgery. Our lives were now filled with medical appointments, specialist visits and hemodialysis treatments. In the midst of all of this, I had so many questions “What was Dialysis? What are the long term effects and what clinical data was available?”
I left New York and returned to Orlando within a couple of weeks after my mother’s phone call. After working for several years as a clinician and polysomnographer (sleep technologist), I was hired as a clinical research coordinator in April 2006. As a coordinator, I experienced firsthand how and what it actually takes for medications, devices and therapies to become readily available and accessible. The first dialyzer (artificial kidney) was constructed in 1943 and the world’s first outpatient dialysis facility was established in 1962. Our bodies naturally remove waste and water through the kidneys, but for those who have failed or damaged kidneys, dialysis is needed in order to carry out this function. According to the American Kidney Fund, Latinos are more at risk for kidney failure as compared to other races. 1 in 8 Kidney failure patients living in the United States are Latino, amounting to almost 60,000. Volunteers, including Latinos, participate in clinical trials to help the advancement of kidney medicine and health care.
The more I informed myself, the greater my passion grew for my father’s well-being, his treatment and the future of his chronic illness. I knew that I had to find a better way of informing Latinos and other minorities about the importance of clinical trials and how their outcomes affect our communities. In 2010, I founded Novel Research of New York (www.nrofny.com), a clinical research in the Bronx. The purpose of clinical research is to better understand medical interventions and to help find safer and more effective treatments for patients all over the world.
My father’s quality of life and all of the memories we have shared as a family since are possible because of this medical innovation. It has been 11 years since he started dialysis, and he remains as resilient as ever, referring to his treatments as “mis vacaciones” ( my vacation) and it puts a smile on my face every time.