“You need to go to the hospital right away,” Dr. Dana Mueller told Sifredy as he sat in her exam room at Mary’s Center in Petworth, Washington, DC in the fall of 2015. His skin was bright yellow and cold to the touch.
“But I gotta pick up my kids from school,” Sifredy insisted, glancing at his watch.
Sifredy’s son and daughter, aged 10 and 9, are his top priority in life, so he put off going to the hospital and headed to their elementary school instead.
That evening, his sister Rosa learned that Dr. Mueller had told Sifredy he had less than 30 days to live if he didn’t get treatment immediately. In tears, she called him and begged him to agree to go to the hospital. Dr. Mueller called that evening to confirm that his bloodwork showed what she had diagnosed in the office - severe hepatitis – and to urge him to go to the Emergency Room. The following day, Rosa took him to the ER, where the specialists said he needed a liver transplant.
How had it come to this?
Sifredy had always been a healthy person, accompanying his dad on landscaping jobs as a child and working for his brother’s landscaping business every summer as a teen. Later he enjoyed his job as a property superintendent for a coop, where the tasks included more gardening and painting. After work, he had a beer with his friends outside his apartment building and occasionally went to bars with them on the weekends.
Life was good, until he developed a hernia when he was about 28 years old. It was very small at first, and he brushed it off, thinking it was nothing. When it started growing and hurting a lot, he decided to get help from Mary’s Center. He was shocked when he was told that he also had diabetes. Other members of his family had diabetes, but Sifredy never thought it would affect him. It took him a long time to accept the diagnosis, but he eventually did and started taking medication. He also met with nutritionists at Mary’s Center and learned about eating well to manage his condition.
Unfortunately, he stopped coming for his follow-up appointments. Family problems took his attention away from his health. “My wife was leaving me. I didn’t know what to do. I gave up on myself. I was lost.”
He started drinking more than usual to numb the pain. The only thing that kept him going was working to provide for his children. However, he soon had to quit work, because he was too weak.
“My kids loved sleeping in my arms, but in the morning I would find I had bruises on my arms and I didn’t know why.”
Fiercely independent, Sifredy hesitated to seek help. His insurance had lapsed anyway, so what could he do? He finally realized he couldn’t continue like that and went back to Mary’s Center in August 2015, where the doctor saw him despite his lack of insurance. Dr. Mueller realized that his condition was serious. In addition to Sifredy’s hernia and diabetes, the doctor realized that he was anemic and that he needed a blood transfusion. Worst of all, his liver was failing. The clock was ticking.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Mueller,” Sifredy says. “She took the initiative to send me to be evaluated for a liver transplant.”
Sifredy’s sisters helped him apply for Medicaid and he was relieved when he was approved. But the wait for a liver turned out to be longer than he expected.
“When is it going to be my turn?” he asked himself and the staff at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
In the meantime, his body began to retain water. “I started swelling. I was getting skinny in my face, but my stomach and my legs were getting bigger. The hernia was also hurting more because of the water building. ”
He gained over 40 pounds of water weight. He got some medication, which helped at first, but water then started accumulating in his right lung.
“They had to drain three to four liters (about a gallon) every two weeks,” he recalls.
He also started losing his memory because of the accumulation of waste products in his brain; in a healthy person, the liver prevents this build up. “You lose your senses. One time at the hospital I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t recognize the people around me. It also happened another time when I was at home watching TV with my mom.”
Sifredy needed a miracle and it came on August 18th, 2016. That day the doctor walked in and told him he was going to get a liver.
He made it through the operation, which was paid for by Medicaid, and is slowly regaining his strength. He is still in a lot of pain, but he is grateful for his second chance, grateful to be able to see his kids grow up. Sifredy says he can’t thank Mary’s Center and Dr. Mueller enough.
“I think God put her in my way so she could help me through this,” he says. “I haven’t met a lot of doctors like her. She treated me like somebody in her family. She really wanted me to get better. She told me everything was going to be ok, and I believed her.”