Solving a mystery

Some of the caregivers who got Alvarez back on his feet
The team of caregivers who got Alvarez back on his feet, able to walk, dress himself, and have some measure of independence, rivaled in number and caring the tight-knit community in which he had grown up.



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Relaxing after work, skilled carpenter Hector Alvarez suddenly grabbed his head, yelling.

In the emergency department at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital (ESJH), the 58-year-old was diagnosed with hemorrhagic stroke, bleeding into the brain.

Once stabilized, Alvarez slowly learned to feed and dress himself, to talk haltingly, to walk with a cane. But doctors knew he would need assistance the rest of his life. After almost three months at ESJH, it was time to go home to the family about whom he spoke so lovingly. The sunny rooms in Norcross. The wife who sold her jewelry in Five Points. The “futball” playing son.

Trouble was, social worker Roxanne Duncombe had never been able to find them—or any record of Alvarez—at the locations he described. When she went to a penciled address found in his wallet, someone next door told Duncombe where his former roommate might have moved. There, she found the friend who had called 911. Alvarez had no family in America. Buen hombre. He was a good man. That’s all he knew. The wallet also produced a faded money transfer made years ago, maybe held on to for sentimental reasons, turning Duncombe’s search to a city in Mexico. Using a company that specializes in getting patients back to their country of origin, she found the son, 20 years past soccer games. Alvarez’s wife had died, even if not in her husband’s confused mind. Duncombe also found a hospital there that would accept him and got help from Mercy Care Foundation to cover the $60,000 to get Alvarez there and to pay for follow-up care.

With a medical flight waiting, wearing clothes from ESJH’s clothes closet, carrying a donated cane, Alvarez left the caregivers, who rivaled in number and caring the tight-knit community in which he had grown up: The team of physicians and nurses who met him in the emergency department. Six hospitalists who rotated weekly through his room. A dozen-plus nurses, providing specialized care. Another dozen physical, occupational, and speech therapists, determined to move him toward independence, step by step, day after day. And, says Duncombe, the too often hidden heroes and heroines of care, the patient care technicians who fed him, changed his diapers, bathed him, wiped his mouth, patiently, caringly, cheering him on as he slowly became better at doing things for himself.

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Community Benefits Report Cover 2014