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Urgent Heart Surgery for Asylum Seeking Child Moves Forward, Thanks to SCAN

An image of a child getting a check up from a clinician.

[Editor’s Note: The Specialty Care Access Network helps coordinate specialty care for asylum seeking children with urgent specialty care needs. Learn more about SCAN including how to become a SCAN Champion in your area. Read more stories about patients who have attained care when they most needed it through MCN programs like Health Network and SCAN on our #HealthNetworkHelpsPeople page. Support this work with a donation.]

In January, Migrant Clinicians Network’s Health Network received a referral from a medical NGO. Maya,* a 10-year-old asylum seeker, had recently arrived in the US with a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle where the heart is unable to pump blood effectively. Maya needed surgery, as she was at risk of heart failure. Unfortunately, the referring clinic did not provide full medical records, and only managed to secure one phone number, and when Enedelia Basurto , Health Network Associate who received the referral, called the number for Maya’s mother, the number was no longer in service. Basurto circled back to the NGO, and eventually was able to get a second phone number. Camila Velasquez, Health Network Associate, who works with children with specialty care needs through MCN’s Specialty Care Access Network (SCAN), followed up the case – but the voicemail box of the second phone number was always full. Velasquez then reached out to the anchor contact, a person who is listed on the enrollment form as a friend or relative who is not migrating, who can step up to reconnect Health Network with the migrating patient should they lose contact. The anchor provided Velasquez with another number, as the mother had gotten a new phone number in the states. When Velasquez called the new number, Maya’s mother picked up.

“The mother put me on speaker, along with the patient’s sister, and they were both giving me updates on where they were,” Velasquez recalled. The family had made it to the East Coast, so Velasquez began her list of standard questions, to get a sense of what support they would need: Did they have transportation to get to a clinic? Would they be able to get to an appointment in the next week? Do they need directions to a local food pantry? “They had some resources with the family they were with, and they were hesitant to ask for additional help – so they just wanted to get an appointment as quickly as possible,” Velasquez said.

“I reached out to the SCAN champions in that state,” meaning the volunteer clinicians who could help Velasquez arrange charity specialty care for asylum seekers and migrants who arrive in their area. A SCAN champion was able to schedule Maya at a local health center, where she would get an evaluation first, followed by connection to specialty appointments. This case, Velasquez said, went very quickly from there. “Usually, I have 50-plus case notes. This one has just 39,” because the process was seamless. “As soon as I got their info and reached out, they were immediately [placed] into care. I was really thankful that the SCAN Champion assisted,” she said. 

After Maya got into care, her mother stopped answering Velasquez’s calls. This was not unusual, she said: “Once families get established [into care], they don’t need so much assistance.” Soon, however, the mother began reaching out to send updates on Maya’s care. She had secured an appointment at a hospital, and Maya’s treatment was moving forward. Velasquez continued to follow up regularly while working on getting medical records, which the MCN team relays back to the enrolling clinic through treatment completion. At one point, Maya’s mother asked for assistance with work permits. Velasquez informed her that Health Network was focused on health access, but that she could provide contact information for local resources for her for free legal assistance and associated organizations in the area. In April, she called Maya’s mother one last time, letting her know that the case remained open as she awaited medical records to be forwarded, but otherwise she would be closing the case, unless Maya’s mother requested more assistance. “She said to send her our numbers for anything in the future, but it was okay to close the case,” Velasquez recalled.

Without Health Network and SCAN, Maya would have no connection to the health system when arriving on the East Coast, which would have delayed her entry into care and her lifesaving surgery. “Even non-immigrant people have a difficult time navigating the medical system here in the US, so providing this resource to newly arrived immigrants is so crucial since a lot of them are unaware of who to turn to in their area,” Velasquez said. “The SCAN program assists in expediting the process of getting the patients into care -- which in some cases is life or death. Thankfully, this patient was seen quickly thanks to the quick response of the SCAN champions. It's great to be part of their support system.”

*Patient’s name and identifying details have been altered or anonymized to protect the patient’s identity.