Magnolia Miranda remembers her younger days when she donned her bathing suit at the beach, flapping her arms like wings while running on the sand or stretching them out in the water pretending they were her floats.
But during her pregnancy 15 years ago, two lumps crept up near her armpits, one on each side, and later became large, itchy masses with milky discharge from one side. She put away her bathing suit, closed her arms, and shunned the beach and ocean.
“I mostly stayed at home in a spaghetti-strapped shirt without a bra. The pressure from a bra and regular clothing hurts,” said Miranda, 39. “My underarms look ugly and the smell isn’t good.”
A homemaker raising two children with her husband – the family’s sole breadwinner as an apartment maintenance worker, Miranda has no health insurance to treat the malady called bilateral axillary ectopic breast tissue, or breast tissue unusually grown to both armpits.
Her ordeal ended on March 5 at St. Luke’s Health–Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center (Baylor St. Luke’s), where general surgeon Juliet Holder-Haynes, MD, surgically removed the masses.
It was a big day for Miranda: Her entire family rallied at the hospital, and her brother flew in from Mexico.
Upon discharge, Miranda was assured she’d owe the hospital nothing.
“My whole family’s overwhelmed with the impeccable care I received,” Miranda said. “We’d never imagined this to happen without the money. We’re infinitely thankful.”
Miranda is among six recipients of pro bono surgeries that day through Surgical Saturday, a biannual collaboration among St. Luke’s Health and Gateway to Care, a Houston health care advocacy group for financially-struggling residents.
“I’m very, very happy. The first thing I’ll do is to go to the beach without a shirt,” said Victor Padron, 39, days after general surgeon James Suliburk, MD, repaired his umbilical hernia, a baseball-sized bulge around his navel causing pains when he lifted objects.
“People’s comments could be cruel when they saw the bulge, and I’d been too embarrassed to date any girl,” said Padron, a restaurant worker without insurance.
His mother, Maria Padron, fumbled for words to convey her excitement when Suliburk turned him over to her after the procedure. “Thank you, doctor” was all she could say.
“I’d been worried for five years,” she later said. “Now I can see Victor’s belly button!”
‘A life with service’
That day, both surgeons were joined by more than 50 clinical and administrative volunteers.
“Surgical Saturday is a short moment in our lives, but it leads to a lifelong health improvement for our patients who aren’t fortunate to have insurance,” Suliburk said. “It’s a moment for us to give back to the community and do what we really enjoy doing – taking care of patients. We all believe a life worth living is a life with service.”
Sister Susan Evelyn, CHI Texas Division Senior Vice President of Mission, said the project continues St. Luke’s longstanding efforts to “reach out to persons in need and make a difference in their lives.”
“We couldn’t do this without our many professionals who volunteer their time for the communities we serve in support of this wonderful project,” she said.
Dick Nye, Gateway’s navigation services manager, said the project exemplifies Gateway’s partnership with the local health care community in bridging a gap in care for underserved populations.
Elizabeth Jones, Baylor St. Luke’s Vice President of Hospital Operations, notes “serving the poor and underserved” as a St. Luke’s focus.
“As a Catholic health system, we’re called to provide person-centered care, stand in solidarity with the poor, and use our resources to accomplish our mission.”
‘A huge need’
Indigent patients are referred to Gateway by federally qualified health centers and community clinics with a charitable program. Typically six out of a dozen patients are picked for each Surgical Saturday based on financial and medical qualifications, said Amanda Thomason, Gateway’s patient-care coordinator.
“There’s a huge need in the community for those uninsured and with low financial means to access specialty care,” Thomason said. “If they’re ineligible for county indigent programs, they have to negotiate cash-pay prices or end up in emergency rooms or fall through the cracks. St. Luke’s partnership is tremendous with so many donating their services on weekends.”
Nye noted “a lot of hugs, smiles and tears” from patients and their families leaving the hospital.
Miranda said her self-esteem is returning.
“I can open my arms with confidence now,” she said. “I can’t wait to put on my bathing suit and feel like I’m 16 again.”