By Adama Dyoniziak, Executive Director, Champions for Health

“She never abandoned me… and she wanted to help me” is how Daniel describes Dr. Tania Rivera, his physician at Rheumatology Center of San Diego. Daniel had psoriasis with arthritis which greatly affected his entire life. “People would look at me with disgust. I had to wear long sleeves so that my skin could not be seen. The psoriasis appeared on my ears, nose, neck, my whole body. I was embarrassed and became depressed, so much that I didn’t want to leave my home to avoid people staring at me. They did not know that this disease is not contagious. But the truth is that this disease is very ugly. But thank God there are people who helped me through Project Access and Dr. Rivera.”

Daniel, originally from Acapulco in Guerrero, Mexico, has lived in the US for 35 years. He is a husband, and father to 4 children and 1 grandchild. “I was feeling despair due to my sickness…” and Daniel was worried he would not be able to provide for his family as a dishwasher. “The truth is – psoriasis gave me a lot of shame. Coworkers asked me ‘what do you have there?’ and I would say ‘nothing’ and I would roll down my sleeves. But when the supervisor saw me, he told me ‘you’re wetting your sleeves, pull your sleeves up’ and I just could not bear it and I quit work! Even with my own wife I was embarrassed, “what reaction will she have”, “will she treat me differently” but my wife said, “I know the whole trajectory of your illness and I know it is not contagious.”

Project Access San Diego, a program of Champions for Health, was able to help Daniel see a specialist and receive the treatment he needed. His physician, Dr. Rivera, says that helping patients such as Daniel and seeing their happiness as their condition improves is her reward for volunteering. “Patients need physicians’ help because they have no other means, and a doctor needs to go back to his/her roots as to why they joined the profession to know that they can help by volunteering as well.” Dr. Rivera, born and raised in Chile, believes volunteering is an important part of life. “I have done volunteer work all my life. I volunteered at my church as a teen, in medical school I worked with end stage cancer patients as a support person. Along with Project Access, I also volunteer at the UCSD Student Run Free Clinic.” In her spare time, Dr. Rivera enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors with her husband and children. She is an avid runner and has run in many marathons including the New York City Marathon.

The good news is that Daniel is now able to reconnect with people and has his life back. “Whenever I go see Dr. Rivera, she is very generous and very kind, she treats me as if I was any other patient. Dr. Rivera is a very good person. I am very grateful to her. I have no words to describe what Project Access has done for me. Right now, I am working part time, it’s not much but little by little I am climbing as they say.” Climbing back into life, one day at a time!

Join us at the 1stannual Champions Soirée – Awakening Wellnessevent at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park on June 30th to raise money for Project Access San Diego.