“I feel like I’m with family”

Three days out of seven, Lucia Leandro Gimeno, a 38-year-old trans person who often goes by “LL,” goes to dialysis treatment. After a scary hospital stay less than a year ago, LL was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure, which means LL’s own kidneys can no longer do the important job of removing the body’s waste.

 Today, LL looks dapper in a bright tee and scarf, the demands of a disease that requires constant medication, treatment and need for rest, camouflaged with an upbeat smile.

Medicaid and Medicare keep LL working and productive, but uncertainty over federal funding of these programs, and the health safety net that LL and many disabled people rely upon, leaves unsettling questions.

 “The stress that I deal with, besides the lack of awareness around trans issues, is the stress around finances and health benefits. I don’t make that much money,” said LL.

 LL is a trained doula and head of a non-profit that provides doula services to Seattle’s trans community. LL, who attended protests as a youth with two activist parents, is outspoken against efforts to curtail access to affordable health care, “It costs way less to provide free health care and education than it does to go elsewhere to bomb the s**t out of some other country or lock people in prison.”

The nation’s lack of health equity is like, “not being able to get ahead because you started a few steps behind.”

 A key part of the support system that keeps LL well and whole, is International Community Health Services (ICHS), a non-profit health center with a clinic in Seattle’s Holly Park neighborhood. Just a short walk from LL’s home, LL’s primary care provider, Dr. Jessica Guh, and an integrated team of heath care professionals, keep watch over all aspects of LL’s wellbeing.

Jie Chen, pharmacy supervisor at ICHS’ Holly Park clinic, gave one example, “The pharmacy team plays an active role caring for a patient like LL, who takes multiple medications and receives treatment from multiple sources. We make sure there is constant monitoring and safety. Perhaps most importantly, we really work to build trust over time.”

The ICHS team not only helps LL manage a potentially fatal disease, they deliver care that is sensitive to the nuances of LL’s gender identity and need for gentle handling after trauma from past medical exams. This is a first for LL, whose early experiences with the medical community left deep distrust. LL says ICHS is the first place to give such complete care.

“What you have here at ICHS is really special. I feel genuinely grateful because I do not like doctors. I don’t trust them. But that is definitely shifting because of my experience here.” LL feels at home at ICHS, “This is the best medical care I have ever had. I feel like I’m with family. I like the diversity of people and languages. That’s what I grew up with.”

Mindful of the power of making one’s voice heard, LL has a message for lawmakers. Preserve affordable health care that allows people to benefit from health centers like ICHS, “Unless you’ve lived our experiences, you can’t make decisions about our lives. And if you have, try not to forget what that feels like.”