Providence Little Company of Mary’s Partners for Healthy Kids (PFHK) mobile medical van visits ten Los Angeles-area schools on a weekly basis to provide free medical care for children in need. PFHK’s impact is as diverse as the patients it sees: healing a baby’s painful rash, providing sport physicals, removing a toy soldier’s hand from a boy’s aching ear, identifying a painful limp as a serious condition requiring immediate surgery, helping a mother enroll her children in health insurance, and stabilizing a teen’s asthma attack until the paramedics arrived. The number of stories told by PFHK staff about the grateful families and children they have served is limitless. There is one story that stands out, not because it involves a child on the brink of death or the identification of a pandemic outbreak, but because of the impact that PFHK had on this teen’s physical as well as social and emotional health.
Juan* is a teenager who had very bad acne. Boys at school teased him, girls wouldn’t talk to him, and he knew his family couldn’t afford to take him to the doctor unless it was a more serious medical condition. He knew the PFHK staff was on his high school campus and for months thought about seeking treatment, but he was too embarrassed and was worried if his family could afford it. After talking to a friend who told him PFHK was free, he put his embarrassment aside and mustered up the courage to ask his mom if he could seek treatment, of which she readily agreed.
At Juan’s first appointment he walked in wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and his head down to avoid eye contact – something his mom said was quite common of recent. His mom also reported that he had become quite withdrawn, stayed in his room instead of playing with the neighborhood kids, no longer brought friends over, and he opted to not try out for the Junior Varsity soccer team. She just attributed these changes to him being a teenager.
After the initial assessment, the PFHK clinician explained that acne was very normal for teens his age and with some changes in hygiene and a few medications he would notice major improvements in his condition. He was given the medication he required and told to return in 3 weeks for further evaluation. When he returned he said that he had been following the clinician’s instructions and he had noticed a small improvement. Juan continued to come for periodic follow up appointments so that his medications could be adjusted, and as he got to know the PFHK staff he began to open up more.
Nine months after his initial visit he happily reported only occasional outbreaks that responded very well to the acne spot treatment he was now using. But more importantly the PFHK staff noticed some real changes in his behavior and demeanor. He no longer wore the hooded sweatshirt; he greeted the staff with warm hellos telling them about his activities in school clubs and sharing that he was a little nervous about the upcoming football game where he would be introduced as one of the Homecoming King nominees.
While Juan wasn’t selected Homecoming King, the transformation that PFHK staff witnessed was remarkable nonetheless. With the medical care he needed to clear up his acne, Juan regained his self-confidence and returned to being an outgoing and active young man. One might scoff at the idea that the treatment of a minor medical condition such as acne would warrant the need for school based health centers. In the case of Juan, who had limited access to health care services, it was such a school based health center that made a world of difference in his life.
*Not patient’s real name
(Originally posted as part of School-Based Health Center Awareness Month 2012 on the website of the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.)