Tri city medical center

I survived cancer, I survived the pandemic
by Adama Dyoniziak, Executive Director, Champions for Health

It started in mid-2018 for Lilia; the pain in her back, constant ringing in her ears, frequent headaches and phlegm. Without health insurance, and with financial issues, it was difficult to see a doctor. When she did save some money for a visit, doctors could not identify what was wrong. Lilia was taking medicine for pain daily, she could not sleep, and her arms were getting numb. She attributed it to the hard work of cleaning houses. After a year, her headaches were more frequent, and her pain was affecting her ability to work, spend time with her family, or dance with her husband. “I just wanted to sleep or take the medicine.”

New Year’s 2020, Lilia’s husband saw a large bump on Lilia’s neck and immediately said “I need to take you to the hospital!” In May 2020, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Champions for Health Project Access client Lilia entered Tri City Medical Center to receive surgery for her thyroid cancer. Dr. Bruce K. Reisman, a volunteer Project Access ENT surgeon, and the team at the hospital provided pro bono surgery. “I was greeted by angels at the hospital – I knew that they had been guided there. It felt magical.” It was the beginning of healing for Lilia and her family.

When Lilia first found out she had thyroid cancer, she cried; “What is going to happen? My family can’t afford this medical treatment, especially with the pandemic. How can this be happening to me?” Lilia could feel the world closing in, and recalls saying to her mother, “it looks like you are going to be left without a daughter.”

“Lilia represents the ideal patient for utilizing a program such as Project Access San Diego. She is a young woman in the prime of her life, with a potentially life-altering and/or life-threatening disease. She has no insurance and no means to acquire any. She would easily ‘fall through the cracks’ of our current healthcare system,” Dr. Reisman shared with GB Magazine.

Dr. Reisman explained the surgery process, on which part of her neck they would be performing surgery and giving her an idea of the size of the incision. When Dr. Reisman also shared that he would be performing the surgery as a volunteer with Project Access, Lilia hugged the doctor. “In a pandemic and with cancer – it was all a blessing.” Lilia felt a sudden peace knowing Dr. Reisman would be her surgeon: “it was a miracle.”

Lilia added, “I am blessed – I am alive. Each time I see my scar I thank God that you all gave me a long staircase to keep climbing. There is nothing I can do to pay Dr. Reisman back. Thank you to everyone who is on this marvelous team that help people without hope.”

Dr. Reisman was honored to be able to provide her the surgical care necessary to offer her a potential cure of her condition. “I have enjoyed participating in Project Access and am grateful that the other facilities and specialists that I depend on to provide my patients comprehensive care participate also,” added Dr. Reisman.

Since 2008, Project Access has facilitated $21 million in care for 6,500+ uninsured patients just like Lilia by providing free consultations and surgeries – all thanks to the dedication, time and talent of our volunteer specialty healthcare physicians. For every $1 spent on program expenses, we provide $10 in contributed healthcare services – a return on investment of 1,000%!

Help Project Access patients by donating to Champions for Health, please visit

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Esteban Villanueva