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Patient Stories

I Can Finally Eat Without Fear of Pain

By January 15, 2023May 15th, 2024No Comments

Velia A. Saw the connection between what she ate and her increasing pain. “I was always nauseous, I had pain in my stomach area,” she says. “It hurt like childbirth contractions sometimes, but worse.” Over time, she developed a fear of eating, and of food. The fear of pain stopped her from leaving the house, except to work. Velia says, “The best thing about volunteering is the heartfelt gratitude from patients. The best thank-you I ever received was from the daughter of a Project Access patient who gave me a bouquet of roses and a handwritten note that said, ‘Thank you for taking care of the most important person in my life. He’s my couldn’t miss work. She recalled many days where she would force herself to push through even the most severe pain for the sake of her children.

Eventually, the symptoms were too much. “I felt very bad, I was vomiting very badly, and I forced myself to walk to my doctor’s office,” she explains. Her physician told her she had gallstones, prescribed pain medication, told her to change her diet, and referred her to Project Access for surgery. There would be a wait due to the pandemic. Worse, Velia couldn’t afford the surgery and knew that the only other option was emergency surgery, which potentially loomed in her future.

Velia’s fear of eating got to the point where she just didn’t eat. Her two sons, 12 and 18, understood that she was not eager to leave the house, or to eat outside the home. “I had medicine to help with the pain,” she says. “I would go to work thinking I was OK, but would end up working with the pain, taking pain pills, and somehow getting through the work day. I had to have a lot of faith that things would work out.”

After two years of waiting, Velia was relieved to finally see a physician. Dr. Cheryl Olson is a general surgeon with Surgical Associates of La Jolla and a Project Access volunteer since 2016, providing pro bono consultations and surgeries to 40 patients so far. “I love being a surgeon because you get to solve a medical dilemma, a puzzle, by taking a patient from diagnose to complete resolution,” Dr. Olson explains. “Gallbladder patients are gratifying, because then they can finally eat and feel happy with no pain. They usually live for a long time suffering from gallstones, so it’s rewarding to make a difference.”

Dr Cheryl Olson

“Dr. Olson was very nice and very thorough,” Velia says. “She reviewed everything and when we were ready to operate, she explained the operation and asked me if I had questions.”

Six months post-surgery, Velia says “I feel much better, no pain — and I can eat now! Thank you to the doctor and the nurses and Project Access. They knew what I needed. I am so grateful all they did for me. May God help you so that you can keep helping people to feel better.”

Dr. Olson appreciates learning from her experiences with patients. “I have the opportunity to do something pretty amazing every day,” she says. “Patients are anxious and distressed. We have very serious conversations, but we try to allay their fears and help them understand.”

About working with Project Access, Dr. Olson everything.’ I still have the note. It always brings

tears to my eyes.” Dr. Olson considers it a privilege and pleasure to provide her patients with the highest level of coordinated care for any surgical need. She strives to treat each patient with the kindness and expertise she would want for her own family.

Since 2008, Project Access has facilitated $24 million in care for 7,500plus uninsured patients just like Velia by providing free consultations and surgeries — all thanks to the dedication, time, and talent of our volunteer specialty physicians.