From patient to board member

Posted on March 19, 2014 by Sonoma Valley Sun

ThereseSueiro_SVCHCAfter the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center (SVCHC) provided care and support in her time of need, Therese Sueiro decided she wanted to give back, to the Health Center itself and her community. In February 2014, she was selected and approved to serve on the center’s Board of Directors as one of its consumer representatives.

The center operates under the direction of a consumer-majority board, with over half its members being current consumers or patients, a practice designed to ensure a truly community-centered leadership structure. Sueiro will serve a three-year term as one of the seven consumers on the 13-member board.

Living in Cozumel, a tropical island in Mexico, had its beauty, but devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma made it too difficult to stay. After living in Mexico for a total of 13 years and after the birth of her two children, Sueiro decided to move her family to Sonoma Valley to establish roots, and settle down.

Shortly after her arrival in Sonoma with no job and no insurance, Sueiro became ill after having ingested bacteria found on fresh produce. Her declining health became nearly fatal as she began experiencing loss of strength and sensation in her body. Not knowing where to turn, she reached out to the personnel at her child’s school, and was directed to the SVCHC.

“I had been to several doctors and to the emergency room and no one was able diagnose my symptoms,” said Sueiro. “Dr. Ahern at the Health Center was able to diagnose my symptoms and give me the direction and assistance that helped me navigate a debilitating disorder. She called me several times at home just to check on me and support me during the entire ordeal.”

Through the efforts and guidance of the Health Center, Sueiro was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening disorder that affects the nervous system, causing nerve pain, paralysis and, in extreme cases, cardiac arrest or pulmonary failure.

The paralysis she experienced for months could have been permanent had Dr. Ahern not intervened, Sueiro said.

After 10 days of treatment, Sueiro left the hospital in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down and having accumulated steep, seemingly insurmountable medical bills. The SVCHC helped navigate the system in order to provide application assistance for the uninsured. Weeks of occupational and physical therapy followed, she said, and center staff continued to support her emotionally and physically.

Now, Sueiro wants to give back to the organization that helped her. As a board member, she looks forward to serving the Health Center as a personal voice for patients, offering input and actions on their behalf.

“We are delighted to have Therese Sueiro join our group of dedicated and passionate volunteer board members,” said Cheryl Johnson, SVCHC chief executive officer. “Ms. Sueiro will bring the community voice to the decision-making table as we focus on public health issues and the delivery of care that will make for a healthier Sonoma Valley.”

A graduate of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Sueiro earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration/Fashion Merchandising with a minor in Spanish Language and Literature. She is currently the Merchandise Manager for Vineburg Wine Company, Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Bartholomew Park Winery, where she is responsible for developing and managing all non-wine products for retail and promotional uses.

Suerio is the mother of two boys, Antonio and Luis.

“The Health Center is a place for all residents of Sonoma Valley, regardless of personal or financial situations, to receive quality healthcare from staff that truly care about the health and well-being of all patients,” stated Sueiro.

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