From loss to gratitude

Roxanne DuncombeSocial worker Roxanne Duncombe secured many types of services for the beleaguered but determined patient and grew close to him in the process.

Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital

Social worker Roxanne Duncombe calls Tarik Cejvan one of the strongest and most determined people she's ever known.

He came to the U.S. in the 1990s as a refugee from the war in Bosnia.

Once here, he learned some English, got a job installing carpets, and was working to become a citizen. Then, three years ago, his life began to unravel. He lost a leg because of his diabetes and then lost his job. After his uncle's sudden death, he could not pay rent for the small apartment they had shared.

Wheelchair bound and homeless, he nonetheless remained grateful—for his late uncle's love and for the friend from Bosnia who fed him and let him spend the night on the porch in an already over-crowded apartment. And very grateful, he told everyone who cared for him, for Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.

In fall of 2016, he arrived at the emergency room by ambulance, panting and clutching his chest. He was found to have cardiomyopathy, renal failure, and a cancerous mass in his lung. An extensive team of nephrologists, hospitalists, internal medicine and palliative care specialists, oncologists, nurses, physical therapists, and others cared for him during his seven-week stay.

Meanwhile, Duncombe struggled with other challenges: how to arrange for a homeless man, in a wheelchair, with minimal resources, to get to and from outpatient dialysis three times a week and to twice-weekly outpatient appointments at Winship Cancer Institute. He had no family, and his best friend's declining vision meant he couldn't drive him. With winter approaching, the friend's porch was no longer a viable housing option.

Duncombe found him a group home and linked him with the International Rescue Committee, which began the work of applying for citizenship to enable his eligibility for disability benefits. Meanwhile, the hospital covered more than $2,000 monthly in room, board, transportation, and other unreimbursed costs while he awaited citizenship. Duncombe and the clinical team have done everything they could to make him as well and independent as possible. They could not, says Duncombe, have made him any more grateful than he already was.