When Diego (not his real name) was a little boy in Mexico, his abusive father plunged a fireplace poker into the 3-year-old's left eye. Diego and his mother fled to the United States, ending up in Phoenix.
But Diego's misery continued. Essentially blind, haunted by memories of his father, and mocked by fellow students, he was suicidal by age 10. His mom was undocumented, with no insurance or access to services.
That's when Charlotte Thrall heard about their plight. A nurse who uses her skills to serve Phoenix's uninsured and undocumented, Thrall connected Diego to an ophthalmologist for his eye and a psychiatrist for his anguish. The former crafted a custom contact lens that restored some of Diego's sight. The latter put him on an antidepressant that may have saved the boy's life. All this for free. Today, Diego is a thriving 16-year-old who enjoys playing soccer. If it weren't for Thrall, he might have ended up as another lost statistic.
Newly armed with a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), Thrall regularly works outside a system that often ignores those she aims to serve—mostly undocumented Latinos afraid to seek medical help, lest they be found out. She's always "on call," driving where needed to treat a sick child, to help an adult understand how to manage diabetes, to educate a family about their health care options.
"I want to protect the people who are extremely vulnerable," says Thrall. She earned her doctorate so she could treat more patients herself. "The political climate here has been so difficult and frightening that even to be outside their homes, they feel exposed. They'd wait until they were so sick that they had to go to the ER." ...1
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