During a seemingly normal fall day, a patient was brought by ambulance to the Highland Hospital emergency department at the Wilma Chan Highland Hospital Campus (WCHHC) after collapsing at home. Little did he know that it would be life altering.   

“My life was forever changed,” said Alameda Health System (AHS) patient Kevin (last name not provided to protect privacy at patient’s request).  “At the time I was drinking a liter of vodka a day and I was in a very dark place.” Kevin credits the compassionate care and support he received from the physicians, nurses and social workers for saving his life and supporting him on his journey to better health and wellness.

Kevin shared that he started drinking socially and it eventually escalated to him self-medicating with alcohol to cope with depression and anxiety.  Drinking heavily for over a decade took its toll on his body and mental and emotional health. As a result he lost jobs and friends, and according to him, he didn’t care if he lived.

In addition, his body was breaking down. He shared that before coming to Highland, he couldn’t keep food down, he was disoriented and kept falling at home. It could take him up to 30 minutes to get up and on his feet.

“When I got to Highland I knew that this was an opportunity that could change the trajectory of my life and I knew I had to take it,” said Kevin.

He was diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled drinking and alcoholic neuropathy which is damage to the nerves as a result of prolonged and excessive drinking.  In addition, he was diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  “That was a huge wake-up call for me to start taking a proactive role in managing my health,” said Kevin.  Before coming to Highland, he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a doctor.

During an appointment in the Adult Immunology Clinic (AIC) Kevin was referred to a social worker who changed his quality of life by connecting him to community resources such as Cal-Fresh and Project Open-Hand and helping him through the process of applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.  “Most importantly, I was connected to the Bridge Clinic’s substance use disorder program (SUD) where I showed up for my patient intake appointment shuffling along with my shiny new walker because my body was still a little weak,” Kevin said.

Weak but determined to move forward with his recovery Kevin met with a counselor. “For the first time I felt seen and I was given the respect that at the time I didn’t feel I truly deserved,” he said.  “It immediately lit a spark in me and I knew that I wanted live.”

As a result, Kevin decided to get a “full body and mind tune-up” as he called it and started practicing self-care.  He went to the doctor regularly, got his eyes examined, went to the dentist and started going to therapy.

Today, Kevin is thriving and laser focused on the road ahead. He shared that he’s more than three and half years sober, his HIV is undetectable and in the best health he’s ever been in. “I went from not being able to walk to the end of my block to running two 5ks last year,” he said.  And that’s just one of his many personal and professional accomplishments thanks to the care and support he received from AHS physicians, nurses and care providers.

Kevin is now back in school studying to be an addiction and recovery counselor. In addition, he recently applied to three graduate programs in the Bay Area to pursue a master’s in social work (MSW). “Honestly, I never would have thought of this career path if not for the care and respect I received as a patient at AHS,” he said.

Jasmin Canfield, LCSW and manager, substance use disorder department

At AHS, one of Kevin’s inspirations and biggest cheerleaders is Jasmin Canfield, licensed social worker (LCSW) and manager, substance use disorder department. She was his counselor and someone Kevin calls a true mentor.  “It fills my heart with gratitude when I get to see Kevin thriving,” said Canfield.  “I’m grateful that I get to witness it because many times we help people and yet have no idea of the impact we have made on their lives.”

In addition, Canfield has no doubt that Kevin will be successful as a future social worker.  “He is thoughtful, selfless, kind, funny, compassionate and resourceful,” she said.  “He’s easy to trust because he is always authentically himself which in turn makes other people comfortable to be themselves around him. This is his true superpower.”

Everyday AHS social workers across the system see and care for patients like Kevin and work diligently to help restore and heal their mental, physical and emotional health. If patients are interested in receiving social worker support services they should speak with their provider.