How one Evergreen Health patient is breaking barriers in WNY

Linda came to the United States as a political refugee from Morocco in 2015. Almost immediately she found herself at Evergreen Health. “My caseworker brought me to Evergreen because of their reputation for providing good care to LGBTQ people,” she said. “Evergreen is really involved with refugees and people with low incomes.” Once Linda began to receive primary care and mental health counseling her life took a dramatic turn for the better. “I suddenly had the opportunity to see an endocrinologist, a primary doctor and a counselor that I could talk to whenever I felt the need. I was able to have medical tests to put my mind at ease, and I got answers to all my questions.”

Testing revealed that Linda has a condition known as Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS), which impairs the masculinization of male genitalia in a developing fetus as well as the development of certain secondary sexual characteristics at puberty.

“I have an XXY chromosome set with PAIS,” explained Linda. “I have one ovary, a uterus and a vagina, but I also have one testicle. I have a female skeleton and I menstruate. People like me were once called ‘true hermaphrodites’ but that’s an obsolete term now.”

Linda was raised as a girl up until the age of 9, when she began high school. “I grew up with four brothers,” she recalled. “I was always a tomboy. I felt weird wearing a dress or a skirt. When I started high school I went with a shaved head and baggy clothes, and a year later I transferred to an all-boys school.” At 14 Linda graduated from high school and had her first period. “I felt so defeated. I stopped wearing boy’s clothing, and began the process of learning to be a woman. My late friend Ornella was a huge help to me. She understood me and guided me through the ups and downs.”

After high school Linda attended university in Casablanca and Paris, earning a Masters degree in international relations. “Now at almost 22, I’m able to accept myself as I am,” said Linda. “It’s been a long process. Thank God I have my family that supports me even from far away. Evergreen offered me an amazing support system as well, especially (Nurse Practitioner) Lynn Grucza. She’s one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.”

Linda is now able to enjoy life as it comes. “I know tomorrow is not guaranteed to us,” she said. “But I have hopes and goals for the future. I want to live a life with no more surgeries (I have a few correctives yet to do) and I want to work to spread awareness of genital mutilation and the impact it has on so many people around the world.”

Genital mutilation involves the ritual cutting or removal of some or all external female genitalia. The practice is rooted in gender inequality and attempts to control women’s sexuality, and is associated with a variety of negative health effects. There are no known health benefits to genital mutilation.

“I’ve been touched by genitalia mutilation from a very early age,” said Linda. “My mother was introduced to me only after surgery was performed just hours after I was born. I’ve lost a close friend to the practice as well. It’s very important for me to speak out for what I believe in. I feel like it’s my mission to shine the light on the damage genital mutilation causes. The physical pain is nothing compared to the emotional devastation.”

Linda is working on a website to fight genital mutilation and a documentary on the topic may also be in the works. “Buffalo has a lot of refugees who have unfortunately been exposed to mutilation because of their culture. And finally, I want to say that I’m extremely grateful to Evergreen for not only saving my life, but giving me the opportunity to express myself.”

Editor’s Note: if you’d like to know more about genital mutilation, share your story or get involved in Linda’s efforts to fight the practice, contact her via Instagram (@kriolili) and\or via email (MaeMGMT@outlook.com).

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Join us for Buffalo Pride Week 2018!

Evergreen Health is proud to be a co-host for Buffalo + WNY Pride Week!

Check out this year’s official Buffalo Pride events:

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We hope to see you showing your pride throughout the community all week long!

To learn more about Buffalo + WNY Pride, visit buffalopridefestival.com. 

Volunteer for Buffalo Pride Week!

Evergreen Health is a co-host of Buffalo Pride 2018, and we need your help!

Pride Week is made possible every year by the hard work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers. Each event throughout the week offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, so you can select a position based on your availability and skill-set. There’s something for everyone!

This year we’re looking for volunteers for the Gay 5K, Dyke+ March, and the Pride Parade and Festival! Click here to sign up.

For more information about the year’s official Pride Week events, go to buffalopridefestival.com.

Buffalo Pride Week is presented by M&T Bank and co-hosted by Evergreen Health and the Pride Center of WNY. 

 

Thank you for supporting Evergreen Health at AIDS Walk Buffalo!

We want to give a big thank you to all of our sponsors, donors, walkers and volunteers at AIDS Walk Buffalo 2018!

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and your support was incredible. Packed with an energetic crowd and lots of fun activities, AIDS Walk was a huge success! Whether remembering a loved one during the flower launch, taking in The Mending of the Hearts Project display, or gathering with friends at the picnic lunch — participants came together to celebrate community and camaraderie.

We couldn’t have done it without your commitment, passion and dedication. It was truly a day that illustrated How Far We’ve Come as an organization and as a community in ending stigma and in improving the lives of those affected by HIV.

Your support of AIDS Walk Buffalo helps our mission of fostering healthy communities by providing medical, supportive and behavioral services to individuals and families in Western New York, especially those who are living with chronic illness or who are underserved by the healthcare system. Every dollar is absolutely vital to our programs and services, and every dollar means the world to our patients.

Our campaign will remain open through May 31 on aidswalkbuffalo.org.

Thank you!

To learn more about Evergreen Health and the services we offer, visit evergreenhs.org.

Harm Reduction Center Participants Take Action

Some of the participants in Evergreen Health’s Harm Reduction Center have been pretty busy lately. They are members of the Drug User Health Coalition Group, which Evergreen formed to give them a chance to provide feedback and work together on education and advocacy efforts about substance use issues.

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The group traveled from Buffalo, NY to Albany to participate in town halls and visit state legislators. They have also played a role in the following campaigns for HIV, Hepatitis C and overdose: Ending the Epidemic, NYS Hepatitis C Elimination and End Overdose NY.

The coalition members are really making a difference and we know that many people listen when they speak up and share their feedback. We are here to support all our participants and it’s amazing to see them get involved and motivated to take better care of themselves, too. That’s the best part!

Together, we are working to help combat overdose and other health issues in our community.

 


 

Evergreen’s Harm Reduction Center provides:

  • Access to clean syringes and works
  • Overdose prevention training
  • Wound care
  • One-on-one support
  • Support groups

To learn more, visit evergreenhs.org.

Evergreen Health Hosts International Overdose Awareness Day in Buffalo and Jamestown, NY

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Last week Evergreen Health hosted two events for International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31), where we asked members of the community to join us in remembrance of those we’ve lost, to learn about what an overdose is and how to prevent it, and to learn about how to combat the opioid epidemic.

What are opioids? 
Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs.

We heard powerful voices during these conversations; Evergreen’s staff told stories of clients that we’ve lost and helped, clients themselves told stories of loss and hope, community members came to recall the vitality of their loved ones before the epidemic took them, and political leaders joined us to listen and discuss the first steps our government is taking to stop this growing epidemic.

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Evergreen Health staff with  Jamestown, NY Police Chief Snelling at an International Overdose Awareness Day at the Chautauqua Mall.

Many members of the community came to remember their loved ones and warn against denial; asking the audience to not fall victim to the falsely belief that the epidemic won’t affect you personally. In Erie County alone, the epidemic claims roughly 10 lives a week, stealing potential from our community, clawing back population gains, and leaving dozens of family members in grief at the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, best friends –  the list goes on. The sudden, and fast paced loss of life, prompted Eire County Executive Mark Poloncarz to address the issue:

“We’re averaging about 10 deaths a week of Erie County residents as a result of the opiate epidemic,” Poloncarz said. “I want you to think about this, folks. It took a lot of years for Erie County to start seeing population gain after the drops in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000. Finally, the population came back.”

Poloncarz went on to announce the creation of an Erie County Opioid Taskforce lead by County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein.

Continue reading “Evergreen Health Hosts International Overdose Awareness Day in Buffalo and Jamestown, NY”

Harm reduction can reduce toll of substance abuse

Source: This op-ed originally appeared in The Buffalo News, and was written by Emma Fabian, Evergreen Health’s Director of Substance User Health Policy. 

By Emma Fabian

Each morning I pick up a newspaper or log on to peruse online articles, and many of the headlines are about substance use. To be fair, it’s my professional responsibility to stay well versed on the topic, so I am particularly drawn to these stories. But I have a feeling that most Western New Yorkers these days would have to actually work to be unaware of the lack of treatment beds, the trend of heroin laced with deadly fentanyl or the stretches of days wherein Erie County lost 11 and 23 people.

These epidemic proportions are enough to make some wonder: is the world becoming increasingly unstable or do we just have more mechanisms for noticing instabilities that have been around for a long time?

This country has not historically confronted drug use effectively; most drug policies have failed and adversely affected marginalized communities and people of color. Couple that with the tragic number of lives lost in Western New York recently, and it’s not surprising people read headlines perplexedly.

In the face of this opiate crisis, Western New York and communities across the country have the opportunity – responsibility, really – to adopt the kind of paradigm shift that led to decreased HIV/AIDS transmissions during the 1980s and 1990s and helped people live longer, healthier lives. A shift of this magnitude involves addressing programming, policy and public opinion. This country did not get through the height of the HIV crisis by perpetuating the same types of traditional treatments despite low outcomes, refusing to fund alternative types of care and stigmatizing individuals as moral failures.

In actuality, we are already on a path toward a more effective response to substance use here. Harm reduction, substance use treatment that reduces the negative consequences associated with drug use, is becoming more recognized as a viable option. Every day at Evergreen Health, staff and participants demonstrate how harm reduction can help change and save lives. The agency is home to a large syringe exchange program and recently received funding from the state Department of Health to implement a substance user health hub. This, in and of itself, is a big step forward for the community. Furthermore, Erie County has developed a productive task force addressing the opiate epidemic.

If stakeholders in our community continue to think outside the box and forget cookie-cutter mentalities, we will get through, as we have before.

Today at 6 p.m., Evergreen Health will lead a public event at 67 Prospect Ave. to remember clients and community members who have passed away from overdoses and raise awareness about services many may not know about.

Emma Fabian is director of substance user health policy at Evergreen Health of Buffalo.


Are you a substance user or know someone who is? We’re here to talk if you need us. Learn more and contact us by clicking here or calling us at 716.845.0172.

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[Op-Ed] An Open Letter to My Future Sex Partners

This has been reposted from The Body.

I wanted to write this, not only because I still struggle with the right words to use each time I disclose, but also for others to read and understand the thought process someone has when disclosing his HIV status. Hopefully it will help others with their own, personal disclosure, either through inspiration or by simply being a link that is shared with others to help start the conversation.

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David Duran. Photo credit: TheBody.com

So there’s something I want to discuss with you before we take whatever this is to the next level. I wanted to bring it up right away, but I thought I would first see where this is going. It’s not an easy topic to bring up, but here goes. I’m HIV-positive. I’m healthy, on medication and have been undetectable for years. It’s not a huge deal to me, but I fully understand that it may be to you. Or maybe you already know all you need to know about HIV, and you are up to date on information. I don’t know what you are thinking at this moment after reading this, but here’s how I’m feeling.

Right now, I’m feeling a sense of relief. Disclosing is obviously not an easy task, especially when it comes to something as stigmatized as HIV. I’m feeling relief because I told you what I needed to tell you and on my own accord. If you had asked me, I would have told you, but it would have been a lot more difficult because I am not yet programmed to verbalize my carefully thought out monologue about my positive status. But now that a sense of relief has kicked in, I’m also beginning to feel anxiety and fear.

I’m asking myself, “What if this news is a deal breaker?” I mean, it very well could be. And just so you know, if it is, I’m not going to be upset because you wouldn’t be the first person to reject me because of my status. But if you are going to reject me, I’d like to know exactly why. Because if it’s due to a lack of knowledge and information about the topic, then I’m more than willing to share what I know, which happens to be a lot.

You know, when I first was diagnosed, I had my moments of darkness when all I wanted to do was grieve and forget about the rest of my life. I think I deserved that time, as I needed to put myself back together after my world came to a halt. But when I was ready, I took the time to become somewhat of an expert on this virus that is going to be a part of my life for the foreseeable future. I realized that knowing everything there is to know about HIV … and more was to my benefit, not only because some of what I learned is vital to me staying healthy and alive, but because the more I knew, the more empowered I felt.

I have put up a bit of a guard since finding out, and it’s mostly for my protection and sanity, because even with all the amazing advancements out there and news of new forms of protection, HIV is still a highly stigmatized disease. But every day when I wake up, I honestly don’t think about it anymore. At night before bed, I’m fortunate to have just one pill to take before passing out. To me, that pill could easily be a cholesterol medication, or an allergy pill or even an aspirin. I realize the importance of that one pill, as it’s keeping me healthy and allowing me to live a normal life, but each night when I take it, I don’t think too much about it. The only time I am really slapped in the face with reality is when it comes to sex, and having to disclose my status. That’s the moment when all those initial feelings of being scared, ashamed and alone set in again, the same way they did after I was diagnosed, even if just for a brief moment or two.

I want you to know that I’m an open book, for the most part. I believe in putting it all out there because honesty is just so much easier. If you have questions, I’m here to answer them. If you want to know how I came to be HIV-positive — which at times is the initial question after I disclose — I understand. Curiosity is a natural response. And if you really need to know right away, I’ll let you know, but does it really matter? I just worked up the courage to tell you something extremely personal about myself, and I would prefer not to open the wound any further by rehashing the trauma. But at some point, if this goes anywhere beyond just sex, it’s something that I am open to discussing.

Before I open up the floor to questions, here’s some information that I’d like to share right off the bat. It’s all good information, and I’m hoping you already know it, but just in case here’s a refresher. There have been all sorts of studies on whether or not a person who is undetectable can transmit the virus. Some studies have concluded that it’s not possible to transmit, while others say there is a minute possibility of transmission, but I can’t tell you which to believe. What I can say is that even those studies that find a possible risk of transmission say that the risk is so small that experts argue it’s equivalent to saying it’s not possible to transmit. Regardless, the information is out there. And it only applies only if we decide to have sex without a condom.

That all being said, I don’t know if you are aware about PrEP, a once-a-day pill that protects HIV-negative people from becoming infected with the virus. I mean, I’m being open and honest about my status, and I’m comfortable enough with being undetectable to know that I am not putting you at risk, but not everyone is like me. And whether or not you decide to have sex with me, I’d like you to know that you have options to protect yourself. So if you don’t know about PrEP, you should check it out, because it’s the most amazing advancement helping to stop the spread of the virus.

So there it is. I realize this is a lot of unloading, and you can take all the time you need to process the information. Again, I just wanted to be open about it all, and to make sure you are good with it and that you know you can use me as a resource if you want more information. I know it’s a heavy topic, but it doesn’t have to be, and it really shouldn’t be. I hope that one day soon those of us who are HIV-positive will be able to verbalize these thoughts with greater ease, and without so many emotions arising. Let me know what you are thinking. I’m here when you are ready to talk about it.

David Duran is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at@theemuki.

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