Every day, Children’s Health Fund doctors and nurses play a quiet role in the American dream. By providing critical health care to children in need, CHF’s medical professionals help kids become better prepared to learn in school and reach their fullest potential as productive citizens.
It’s difficult to imagine a better illustration of this than the story of Juan Robles. A CHF patient as a boy, Juan credits his CHF doctor with inspiring him to become a doctor himself. And today he is one, practicing in the very South Bronx neighborhood he where grew up.
Like most of the kids CHF cares for, Juan faced a difficult road early on. Born in Honduras, he came to the U.S. when he was 13. His mother had been living in the South Bronx for many years, saving up to reunite her family for a better life.
GIVING BACK: Today, Juan, a fourth-year medical resident, is back in the Bronx, practicing medicine and providing health care to other families in need.
But coming to the land of opportunity had its own set of challenges. “For me, in many ways it was culture shock…the language, the people, everything,” says Juan. “Slowly, very slowly, we got adjusted to it…learning the language, learning how to get around. Surviving. Basically, I grew up in a family that did not have resources, even when we moved to New York.”
Having come from a family with little formal education, Juan worked twice as hard to complete junior high school and get into the South Bronx High School. That was where he met Dr. Alan Shapiro, Sr. Medical Director of Children’s Health Fund’s New York Flagship Programs.
“I met Dr. Shapiro in 1994,” says Juan. “Like most kids in my high school, we really didn’t have good access to medical care. Most of us didn’t have insurance, and my mom couldn’t afford it. I had really never had health care in my life. But the gym teacher referred us to the mobile medical clinic.”
Dr. Shapiro remembers the meeting well. “Juan represented everything our program was about and why I went into medicine. I could not stand the inequality in health care in this country. And, I went into pediatrics because for me, children represent all of the optimism we have in society. To watch a child reach his or her full potential is what it is all about.”
What started as a doctor-patient relationship — providing much needed health care like annual physicals and visits when he was sick or hurting — turned into much more for Juan. “Dr. Shapiro became a teacher, a mentor. I did not have a father figure in my life, and he was always there for me. I admire him for many reasons…he is a doctor, he’s a very smart, genuine, caring person. But most of all because he was guiding me in the right direction.”
That direction helped Juan become valedictorian of his high school class and gain entry into Cornell University.
“The chance of me becoming a physician was very slim.” But with Dr. Shapiro’s continued guidance and an acceptance letter to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Juan was on the path to making that idea into reality.
Today, Juan is finishing his residency in family medicine at a Montefiore Medical Center clinic in the South Bronx.
“I treat patients with no health insurance, who are very poor, with chronic disease and no access to medical care,” says Juan.
“I can only imagine what Dr. Shapiro feels when he sees me working in the community.”
LOOKING BACK: For young Juan, CHF was the gateway not just to health — but to a fulfilling life’s work.
For Dr. Shapiro the answer was simple, “It is humbling to see your ideals or dreams come to fruition. Most people who dedicate their lives to children hope that they can make an impact. What better reward than to actually see it happen. I have that hope for all of the children I see… whether they become a doctor, a mechanic, or a good parent… if we practice community medicine the way it should be practiced, we are giving the next generation a chance.”
And Juan continues to be thankful to Dr. Shapiro and even to individuals he’s never met. “Someone made a contribution to Children’s Health Fund some time ago, and the good heart of that person made an impact in my life. So, now I am exponentially impacting other people’s lives. I think that’s the beauty in life…the heart of giving back and serving others.”