Imelda is a vibrant, cheerful senior. Other than using a walker to get around Casa Pedro Ruiz Senior Center, you would guess that she is a perfectly healthy elderly woman.
But in reality, Imelda is a survivor. A survivor of both ovarian and skin cancer. Most recently, she is a survivor of a hernia-caused bowel obstruction. Based on her lighthearted nature, you would never guess that tucked neatly under her shirt is a stoma hole that requires diligent maintenance. Imelda has been using ostomy supplies to defecate every day for the past 17 years.
A hernia is putting pressure on and effectively blocking her intestines. Though the surgery would have been, at one time, relatively simple, the risk now is too high. Not to mention, the procedure is expensive. And Imelda does not have insurance.
This leads to the most difficult part of Imelda’s condition…procuring ostomy bags. For sanitation reasons to prevent infection, these bags are made for one-time usage and need to be replaced following every bowel movement.
So the thought of reusing these bags is a nightmare to most doctors. But Imelda is a survivor. She does what she must. She thoroughly cleans bags after each use, or when times are even more scarce, she resorts to using a grocery bag.
But to Imelda, the physical aspects are not the most debilitating part of her condition. Her mental health has taken a toll as well.
“I try to avoid being social and eating in public because I am always afraid the bags I make will not work,” she shares. “It has made me depressed to not feel like a part of my community.”
Thankfully, Esperança learned of her condition before infection or depression took over her life completely.
Esperança’s health educators have been providing classes to the residents of Casa Pedro Ruiz for two years now, covering topics such as blood pressure, diabetes, and healthy eating. Imelda has never missed a class.
“She has been to every class we have taught, and I had no idea she was living this way,” shares Jazmin Hernandez, Community Health Educator. “It is great for her to have the education, but if she is not getting the supplies she needs, that is no quality of life.”
When Jazmin found out about Imelda’s living situation, she knew that Esperança had more to offer.
Collaborating with Esperança’s international Medical Supply Donation Program, ostomy supplies were set aside for Jazmin’s next visit to the senior home.
Imelda was overcome with emotion on our first visit, and now looks forward to seeing Esperança with more supplies every few months. She doesn’t even mind if the donated bags aren’t always in her size.
“I can make it work by cutting them to the proper size. I am so grateful for everything you bring.”
Because the need is great, and there are more survivors just like Imelda at Casa Pedro Ruiz (and other senior centers around the Valley), Esperança will continue providing donated supplies just like these.
“It’s about bringing consistency and stability to people’s lives so that they can focus on what’s important. Nobody should have to question their dignity.” Ramon Gallardo, Gift In-Kind Coordinator.