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Body pain and frequent headache. This was the profile for “Martha,” who came to the U.S. from Columbia and to Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI) in 2010. Our medical tests found no specific medical problems or abnormalities.

Then Martha arrived for an appointment wearing an arm cast. Through an interpreter, she told us she fell while cleaning floors. After examining her, we provided a referral for physical therapy. But she continued to report headaches and body pain at future BVMI visits.

Clearer answers began to surface in May of 2013, when Martha told us of a domestic violence incident at home; her husband had been warned by police that he would be arrested if it happened again. We contacted Alternatives to Domestic Violence (ADV) in Hackensack to help. Martha was also advised to call Shelter Our Sisters (SOS) if she needed a place to stay. It took two more months for Martha to open up further to about her abusive situation. Our team educated her about resources and options, including the restraining order process.

By December 2014, Martha was tested for and diagnosed with osteoporosis; we began treatment with oral medication. Over the next year and a half, things at home got better, then worse. Martha became anxious, sad, depressed, and sleep deprived.

In May 2016, BVMI’s nurse practitioner Kay Fagan repeated a Patient Health Questionnaire, the PHQ-9, to Martha, to gauge her current level of depression. It was high. Martha agreed to try anti-depressant medication, and within a month, her symptoms improved. She was able to take a job she learned about through her church, caring for a young child in the afternoons. Martha has since told Kay that she truly enjoys the child, and feels appreciated and respected by his working parents. It’s been easy to see the improvement in Martha’s self-esteem.

BVMI staff social worker Kathy Acosta, LCSW, provides a listening ear for a BVMI patient.

Kathy Acosta, MSW, LCSW, is BVMI’s newest social worker, and she understands the value of “ruling out and finding out” when it comes to mental health. “Sometimes patients have no one else to talk to,” she said. “It gives them a feeling of relief to finally discuss the things that are bothering them.”

Martha said BVMI is made up of “angels looking out for what’s best for me.” She believes her life now has meaning, and expressed gratitude to Kay Fagan and our social workers for listening, caring and helping. She has become more independent. And her headaches? Gone.

Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative is a VIM Alliance clinic located in Hackensack, New Jersey.  For more information about the clinic, visit bvmi.org.