In 2010, a young man named Felipe came to Dr. Garces, thin, tired, and dying of thyroid cancer.
He had been working as a butcher at Tinto, and for months, his coworkers watched his health deteriorate. Despite their concern and questions about his well-being, Felipe waved them away insisting that he was fine, himself convinced that it was nothing and would pass. Finally, after standing through work shifts on one leg because of the pain, two coworkers brought him to Dr. Garces’s dental office. They didn’t know where else to go.
Years earlier, Felipe’s cousin had been in a car accident and had sought help at a hospital emergency room. Because he did not have his papers, he was promptly deported back to Mexico. Scared that this may also happen to him and unaware of where to seek help, Felipe suffered through a long and painful illness that spread from his thyroid, to his bones, to his other vital organs.
Dr. Garces could see right away that Felipe was terminally ill. She took him to the emergency department at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Steve Larson, the founder of Puentes de Salud, helped admit and care for him. For a year, Dr. Garces stayed by his side, through surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment, doing everything she could for him.
Unfortunately, it was too late for 26-year-old Felipe. A disease that could have been treated with a thyroid removal procedure had gone unseen for too long because of limited access to proper medical care for immigrants. Felipe and his community didn’t know where to find the resources to get help or if there even were such resources. In July 2011, Dr. Garces helped Felipe return to Mexico where he could be with his family and see his ten-year-old daughter once more before he died.
The Garces Foundation was founded in memory of Felipe with the purpose of ensuring that the immigrant community has access to and knows where to find the resources they deserve to live healthy, educated, nutritious lives. We believe everyone should have access to affordable healthcare, educational resources, and fresh food.