I am a Latina born in the United States, to a Colombian mother and Puerto Rican father. Spanish is my first language, and my heritage is very important to me.
I have lived with chronic debilitating illnesses most of my life. I have had asthma since I was a young child. When I was 15 years old, the doctors found a pituitary adenoma (benign brain tumor). As a result, my pituitary gland doesn’t make all the necessary hormones, and I have a condition called diabetes insipidus (not diabetes mellitus). A few years after law school, around 1997, I was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. Between 1997 and 1998 my rheumatologist found I had sjogren’s syndrome and raynaud’s syndrome, other rare autoimmune disorders. In 2013 I learned I also had rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and osteoarthritis.
My poor health has never stopped me from following my dreams and pursuing what I wanted to do. I was blessed to attend Cornell University and Georgetown University Law School on partial scholarships. In August of 2000, in the midst of my career as a public defender, I had to go to the hospital for routine medical care. I was supposed to be discharged in 2 to 3 days. Instead I ended up in a coma and with an iatrogenic brain injury. The very doctors who were supposed to be taking care of me changed my life forever—I couldn’t walk because of severe balance problems; I had aphasia, facial drooping, and other speech problems; my hands and fingers were stone like so I couldn’t hold utensils or a pen; I couldn’t do basic logic problems, balance a checkbook, or make decisions about my personal care; I was left with a seizure disorder and with many other health problems. From a medical standpoint, I was permanently disabled.
It took 6 years of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, but I managed to volunteer again doing health care law. It was satisfying to do legal work, but I did it more because I wanted to be respected, to be more like the person I used to be. However, I could never be that person again, and the law no longer motivated me the way it once did. I knew I wanted to share my story, the devastating and inspirational parts. I wanted to help people see that obstacles didn’t have to stop them from pursuing their dreams; I wanted to write about my experiences. I also knew that what happened to me could be avoided; I perceived a fundamental problem with communication between clinicians and patients.
In 2006 I married Terrence, the man that was my boyfriend when I suffered the brain injury, and in 2008 we had a miracle baby, Isabella Maria. In 2012 I went back to school at Columbia University and in February 2014, I received an MS in Narrative Medicine where we use narrative training to help clinicians better hear their patients’ stories of illness.Through the narrative medicine workshops, I hope to create better communication between practitioners and patients.
I am ready to share my story, to inspire people to stop using excuses for why they don’t pursue their true passions. I also want to work with clinicians and patients—to help forge a better partnership. I hope my story inspires others to stop putting off their dreams for tomorrow, stop using excuses for why they can’t put their plans into action now. If I did it, you can too.