UCLA pre-med student and Venice Family Clinic medical volunteer Keila Perez
"Being Sick Was a Luxury for Us"

By Keila Perez, medical volunteer

When I was a child, my family migrated to the United States from Guatemala and settled in Koreatown. Growing up, I saw my parents work two jobs each in order to make ends meet. I remember my grandmother watching my brother and me at night so my parents could work the graveyard shift. 

At the beginning of the school year my parents would rush to have us vaccinated. Since we didn't have insurance, we relied on free clinics. I clearly recall when my brother or I had flu-like symptoms, they would tell us that "being sick was a luxury for us." It wasn't until I was 14 and my brother was admitted to the hospital for appendicitis that I truly understood what my parents meant. As the eldest daughter, I translated and filled out the necessary paperwork and was amazed that my brother wasn't denied treatment. Seeing my parents’ situation, I decided then that I wanted to pursue a medical career and help others who were uninsured.

After graduating high school, I began volunteering at Venice Family Clinic as a Santa Monica College student. I started in medical records but soon became a volunteer clinical assistant. Even when time was tight I always made time to volunteer at least once a week.  When I’m in the clinic, I am always encouraged by the grateful expressions of the patients during and after they have been seen by our doctors. I have shared bus rides with patients and many tell me they have taken 4 buses or 3-hour bus rides with children to come to Venice Family Clinic because of the care they receive.  They know they are part of our family. 

As a pre-med student at UCLA with health coverage for the first time, I am even more convinced that instead of sickness being a luxury—as it had been for me growing up—access to quality medical care should be a basic right.  I hope to come back to Venice Family Clinic as a doctor so I can be a part of the solution.

This story appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Encounters. Click here to view the entire newsletter.

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