photo credit: Erin Birney

When Teo arrived at Casa Marianella two years ago, unhealthy his untreated diabetes had advanced so far that he was, see as one observer puts it, “more dead than alive.” Indeed, Teo has lost half of his leg, the functioning of his kidneys, and part of his vision to the disease. While many people at Casa have helped him over the years, the work of Mercedes Wanguemert Peña has stood out above all.

During his first year at Casa, Teo’s health insurance (through the Medical Access Program of Travis County) would only cover his dialysis when his blood values became life-threatening. This meant he had to deteriorate to his worst possible condition before he could get treatment and a fleeting period of relief. Throughout that time, he would often fall ill and have to stay in the hospital for as long as three weeks.

Seeing Teo in such a state, Mercedes, a medical caseworker at Casa, decided to get creative. She made an arrangement with a local doctor to get Teo’s bloodwork done on a weekly basis. This way, they would not have to wait until he suffered his most severe symptoms, but could instead identify precisely when any of his blood values reached critical and get him treatment the following day. Using this strategy, Teo was able to receive dialysis once a week, rather than once a month.

But, despite this victory, Mercedes still wasn’t satisfied. Over the course of a year, she identified and got the ear of every important person she could find to lobby for her client. And just recently, through some complicated bureaucratic maneuvering, her work came to fruition. Through a new insurance arrangement, Teo is able to get dialysis three times a week, which is what his body actually requires to be healthy. On top of that, the new arrangement will benefit around 20 other patients in the Travis County area who were in Teo’s same situation. And, most exciting of all, Teo can now get treatment for his glaucoma and, potentially, a new prosthesis.

Today, Teo, who used to have to sleep most of the day, is able to sleep as little as 8 hours a night. Furthermore, he has the energy to move about the Casa property each day, doing strength training with a walker to prepare for the prosthesis. He even occasionally heads over to a nearby thrift-store where he gets supplies for his renowned sense of fashion. As Teo puts it, he now feels “bien a gusto,thanks to Mercedes and all his familia at Casa Marianella.