Hear the story of Tony, one of our patients who grapples with a substance use disorder and found respite and healing at BHCHP.
Tony elevates the energy of a room when he enters. Dressed impeccably in a lavender shirt and a lilac tie, he is affable and self-assured as he shares his story.
Tony was brought up in a Cape Verdean household of “good stock,” as he puts it. He recounts an adolescence and young adulthood teeming with academic potential and scholarships and plans for law school. After college he worked as a case manager serving adolescents from impoverished and underserved areas. But, along the way he developed a substance use disorder, which eventually led to homelessness.
“I just couldn’t find my way out of my substance use disorder. I’d been through a couple of recovery programs and then I found out about Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. They addressed my health care needs. They helped me get set up with health insurance and connected me with substance use recovery services. The providers at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program helped me see that I had potential for a better life. Despite the stigma attached to homelessness and addiction, we’re people too and BHCHP recognizes this,” he says.
But substance use disorders are complex and chronic and Tony continued to struggle for years. Then in 2016, he broke his leg and found himself admitted to our Barbara McInnis House, BHCHP’s 24/7 respite facility for people too ill for the streets or shelter, but not sick enough for an acute hospital stay. “At the McInnis House, they took care of my broken leg and if I needed anything, I could always depend on my team: Dr. Denise De Las Nueces, nurses, case managers and social workers…It’s a tightly run operation. But they also offer a way for people to get back on their feet. Help is always there if you want it.” Staff helped him get set up with an external recovery program, which he attended faithfully. In the coming year he relapsed again—substance use disorders can be unrelenting—and found himself once more at the Barbara McInnis House with another broken leg.
“This is where my recovery journey began. It started at BHCHP’s Barbara McInnis House,” he says. In addition to attending to his medical and dental needs, McInnis House clinicians connected him with an external long-term, live-in substance use recovery program. “I put everything I had into my sobriety this time,” he says, “Nothing’s going to change if I don’t change it.”
Tony’s provider, BHCHP Medical Director Dr. De Las Nueces, shared her thoughts about him: “I am so incredibly proud of how far Tony’s come. When I first met him, he was deeply in the throes of his alcohol addiction. Despite his struggles, I saw him peering through, I saw the soul behind the man, I saw the soul behind the struggles and I recognized him as an individual who is incredibly wise, very well-educated and just an amazing person. It’s been such a privilege to walk alongside him and be there when he has fallen, but also when he has been ready to seek help. I always tell him that the most important person on his care team is him and he is the reason why he has overcome everything and I’ve just been lucky to be a part of the journey.”
Eventually, Tony was able to secure permanent housing where he now resides. “This is all a result of my jumping off point at Barbara McInnis House and at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program—and I will be forever grateful,” he says.
With his continued focus on his recovery and his mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health, he realized he wanted to go back to school.
So three years ago, he returned to school at UMass Boston to become a licensed addiction counselor. Now at 61, he works in some of the same facilities where he was once a client. Being able to help people who are struggling with the same things he struggled with has been healing, he says.
“Barbara McInnis House and Boston Health Care for the Homeless are a godsend for people that don’t have any other avenue to try to change their lives and I’m so grateful.”
Unfortunately, Tony has had other health challenges. Right before the pandemic, he was diagnosed with cancer. Dr. De Las Nueces and his other clinicians at BHCHP helped him get the oncology treatments he needed, but then COVID hit. Tony was fearful, “I’m like, I can’t get this COVID. I’m 61 years old, I’m African American, I have chronic asthma, I have a collapsed lung, I have high blood pressure…and I’m fighting cancer… and then I caught COVID.” Because of our commitment to continuity of care, we were able to help treat his cancer, his COVID illness and, eventually, proudly administered his COVID-19 vaccines.
Tony’s complicated journey is not uncommon. Substance use disorders combined with serious health issues are challenging, and those who struggle each have unique journeys through recovery. It takes a community and a society of compassionate people—donors like you—to make this journey through struggle possible.
It is an honor to care for our patients like Tony. We walk beside them with their various health struggles and work with them to provide high quality care that they so deserve. We can’t do it without our community—our family of donors like you. You can help us continue to provide exceptional and compassionate health care to patients like Tony. And like Tony, we are forever grateful.