When 85-year-old Valerii Guzhva and his wife came to the United States from Kyiv, they faced even more challenges than the average immigrants. In addition to recovering from the hurdles of war and getting settled in a country where he does not speak the language, Guzhva desperately needed to resume treatment for his metastatic prostate cancer.
Guzhva, a longtime journalist and prolific author of eight fiction books and 25 books of poetry, described his life in Ukraine as "happy" before the war. But once he got to Chicago, he was unsure how to get the treatment he needed--especially since his medical records were so sparse.
His stepdaughter, Valentyna Artamonova, led him to one of the best places to receive compassionate and understanding medical care, regardless of his ability to pay: Sinai Chicago's Antillas Health Center in Logan Square.
Most of the patients at Antillas are immigrants and refugees. Many have waited longer than they should to be seen by a healthcare professional due to factors outside of their control. But at Sinai, "in my 21 years of experience, I've never had a doctor say, 'I can't, I'm too busy,'" said Dr. Gary Kaufman, Antillas' medical director. "You might be our 47th patient of the day, but we'll take care of you."
Guzhva--whose cancer needed immediate treatment-received a quick appointment. He arrived to hematologist-oncologist Dr. Mohammed Kassem's office with a single piece of paper indicating which medication he was prescribed in Ukraine before his doctor fled the country--and a sense of optimism his new doctor noticed immediately.
"When I first met Valerii, he stood out to me like a very nice gentleman," Kassem said. Describing his new patient as "very well-mannered, well poised....and very collected about his own condition and disease," he quickly got to work filling in the blanks in his medical record and figuring out how to get Guzhva on the right treatment plan.
"[Dr. Kassem] listened to his concerns from day one and found the right care for him," said Artamonova, and her stepfather-in-law "always felt confident that everything is going to be good." He was especially relieved when Kassem prescribed him the same medication he was treated with in Ukraine. This helped him feel comfortable with his new doctor, even without a language in common.
Kaufman sees cases like Guzhva's as the "shining star of our crown" of the practice. Antillas features the largest refugee program in the state of Illinois, serving 60% of Illinois-bound refugees, asylees, and parolees. One of the many measures Antillas takes to ensure patient comfort is providing services in 21 languages spoken by staff members from all over the world-many of them refugees themselves.
This is "incredibly meaningful when you have somebody from another country who's lost, confused, and not sure of their next step," Kaufman said. "They're seeing somebody who looks like them. They're seeing somebody who has the same experiences who says to them, 'You're okay. I made it-you will make it. We're here to help you.'"
The clinic provides help beyond medical treatment to patients in the form of "tools you need to make it in this country." During visits, "the clinic makes them feel like they're home"--a sentiment shared by patients and family members alike.
"I really appreciate that they took my father into their hearts and treated him," said Artamonova. Guzvha expressed gratitude for the kindness of the practice in accepting him and other refugees as patients.
Four months after arriving in Chicago, Guzhva is doing well on his new treatment plan. He spends his days fishing with his granddaughters and finding the inspiration to write again. His "quiet and peaceful life" is in part thanks to the Jewish community whose support enables him to get the care he needs.
Sinai Chicago is a partner with JUF in serving our community.
For more information about the Antillas Health Clinic or to set up an appointment, call 773-384-4933.