Opening Doors

Tearful words were being spoken to Carlos quickly, and in Spanish; his repetition in English was slower, and more deliberate. He looked over to me as he repeated the woman's words, then he turned back to his work -- again listening to Juanita, the mother of 10-year-old Maria Pablo. Maria Pablo had been suffering chronic headaches for weeks, but her mother had refused to go outside, except to go to church, because she was afraid.

As Juanita spoke in a continuous, almost inaudible stream, the hushed tone to her voice seemed to match the fear in her darting eyes. She explained to Carlos, who serves as Case Manager, that they didn't so much come to the USA as they ran away from Honduras. For a while her son, 13-year-old Jose Pablo, had managed to avoid being conscripted by the local gang, but when the gang came, they threatened to take his sister, Maria Pablo, if he didn't join. Fearing for their lives, they escaped -- over mountains and through cities; moving constantly and making it past police check-points and border crossings.

Juanita won't talk about the trip, but Jose Pablo says that they often slept outside, were always hungry, and had all of their money stolen from them. One day, he says, they somehow arrived at the border and his mother pleaded with the officials -- and they were let in.

The family had an uncle living in New Orleans and when they arrived, he told them to go to the Honduran Consulate where he heard a medical team was doing screening and linking families to health services. The Children's Health Fund (CHF) team met the family a few days ago and now here they were -- at the Children's Health Fund-supported clinic just outside downtown New Orleans. There would be no more closed doors.

By the end of the office visit Maria Pablo didn't want to leave, her mother had stopped crying, and her brother looked relieved. But what's more important is that they had follow-up appointments the next week. Both Maria and Jose Pablo had gone through a comprehensive well-child check-up which included 'health barriers to learning' assessments. These evaluations screen for vision, hearing and mental health issues in addition to asking about hunger, dental pain and breathing difficulties. Per the CHF/Health Barriers to Learning protocol, since there were a number of detected issues, follow-up appointments and treatments were being scheduled, all in Spanish.

You could almost hear the collective exhale of this family as hope was creeping back into view. Here they are welcomed and the door is very much open. Recovery for this family will be long, in addition to the mental health counseling needed, Maria needs glasses and Jose will need to see a dentist right away.

Active since 2005 in New Orleans, the Children's Health Fund program works in partnership with Tulane University School of Medicine's Community Pediatric Department and supports a team of dedicated health service providers who won't close the door on families like Juanita, Jose and Maria. This family that Carlos and the team were seeing is being treating at one of a number of Children's Health Fund supported outposts in New Orleans where the term "mobile" refers more to the health providers than moving around the mobile medical unit.

In recent years there has been an influx of asylum seekers from Central America to the United States. Non-citizen children are more likely to be uninsured. New partnerships, like the one with the Honduran Consulate in New Orleans, speak to the continued innovation and commitment by the team at Children's Health Fund to reach those most in need.

As I listened to Juanita and her family talk about the new life they hope to build in America, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, "...Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." Juanita and her family didn't know about the Children's Health Fund when they left Honduras, but they had faith that somehow things would be better. And they will be, step by step, thanks to heroes like Carlos and the team from the Children's Health Fund program in New Orleans.

Note: A previous version of this post stated that the number of uninsured children recently increased significantly due to an increase asylum seekers from Central America. It has been changed to reflect that children who are non-U.S. citizens are more likely to be uninsured.