Building a Relationship with Good Health


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Some love stories are about romance. This one is about a doctor—and the six people who fell in love with him.

Marta Cano, 72, woke up in the middle of the night, short of breath. Her blood pressure was soaring. She felt terrible. Her younger sister Rosario didn’t hesitate.

“We’ve got to get you to the hospital,” she said, over Marta’s protests. “Let’s not take chances.”

Rosario’s instincts were right. Doctors at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) told Rosario later that her quick action probably saved her sister from a heart attack.

Even with emergency care, Marta would need follow-up. The sisters weren’t happy with their primary care doctor, who sometimes kept them waiting hours for their scheduled appointment, so they took a chance on a new doctor they heard about on the night they rushed Marta to the emergency room: Dr. Adan Romero.

Dr. Romero is a family medicine physician with the MLK Community Medical Group, which launched in 2016 and which offers high-quality primary and specialty care to residents of South LA.

In Spanish, “Romero” means rosemary, but it also means pilgrim—someone who travels on a quest for something better. And that is what Marta, and eventually five more members of her family, did—they all traveled to Dr. Romero.

“The first time I went to the clinic I fell in love with him,” said Rosario, 65. “I liked how he talked to me, how he explained everything so I could understand it. He really cares.”

Rosario went home and told her 29-year-old daughter, Nadia, about Dr. Romero. Nadia had just qualified for Medi-Cal after going without primary care for a decade.

“My mom told me: He is super good. So I called and switched everything over to him. I fell in love with him, too.”

Nadia brought her two sons, Nathan (11) and Jacob (10), with her to the clinic. It was the first time either boy had a regular primary care provider.

The next week, Maria, Rosario, and Marta’s 77-year-old sister made an appointment with him.

A week later, Rosario came, too.

“I went to so many different doctors,” said Nadia. Before she had health insurance, she said, she sought healthcare from low-cost-clinics to doctors in Tijuana. “They don’t get to know you. They don’t even talk to you about your day, nothing. Dr. Romero does. He actually gets to know you—everyone in that clinic does, too. He asks you, ‘How’re your kids, how’s your family?’”

“I went to so many different doctors. They don’t get to know you. They don’t even talk to you about your day, nothing. Dr. Romero does. He actually gets to know you—everyone in that clinic does too. He asks you, ‘How’re your kids, how’s your family?’”—Nadia, a patient of Dr. Adan Romero

Within two months—from Marta’s near heart attack in November 2017 to early January in 2018 when Rosario switched over—the entire family found a medical home with Dr. Romero.

The family, whose roots lie in the beautiful blue and green landscapes of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, deeply appreciates Dr. Romero’s attention and care. Their health challenges are many and are common in South LA’s long-underserved communities.

Marta has heart disease and depression. Maria is diagnosed bi-polar/schizophrenic. Nadia has hereditary diabetes and, until recently, experienced obesity.

Lack of health insurance drove her 200 miles to Tijuana for gastric bypass surgery. Such over-the-border procedures, often with providers of dubious quality, are not uncommon.

Then, two weeks before Christmas, Nadia found herself in MLKCH’s emergency department with painful kidney stones. By New Year’s Eve she was back—this time with gallbladder stones.

Kidney disease and other chronic conditions disproportionately affect low-income communities, according to Dr. Romero.

“Lack of insurance makes people neglect preventive care, which is why you see patients with totally preventable diseases in the late stages when things get really serious,” said Dr. Romero.

The family is typical of South LA in other ways. They live in a small but homey duplex in Watts, filled with family photos and children’s art. They have three small dogs with frilly red ribbon collars: Chanel, Ivy, and Jasmin.

They love each other. Nadia, the caretaker for everyone, gave Maria and Marta the largest bedroom, to accommodate their two hospital beds. The children are in another bedroom. Nadia sleeps in a small adjacent room.

“This is a family that has health issues, but also a lot of love,” said Dr. Romero. “It’s a pleasure to work with them.”

Nadia is an in-home health aide and part-time paralegal when she is not getting kids to school or cooking enchiladas for her mom and aunties. She is uncomplaining.

And now she has high-quality, vigilant help. In addition to Dr. Romero, the clinic provides wraparound care for her and her family: pulmonologists, mental health experts, rheumatologists.

“We’ve been very, very happy with the clinic,” said Nadia. “As soon as we walk in, everybody knows us. It literally feels like an additional family.”