Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘I think no matter what you go through in this life, no matter what cards you’re dealt, you have to go through it with grace.’

Stony Brook

“I had a kidney biopsy in January 2012, and they said at some point I would need a kidney transplant or dialysis. I was 39. In 2015, I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. I was shocked, but my doctor said I’d be fine; I’d just have to take a pill for the rest of my life.

“A month later, I had only 10 percent kidney function in both of my kidneys and I needed immediate dialysis. I was 40 years old and in a dialysis chair and that was my life for almost three years. I felt like a machine, and I just thought, ‘I have to be here for my two kids. I can’t die.’ On January 6, 2015, I met my kidney donor and had a replacement. She’s a very important person to me and we’ve stayed connected. I became a type 1 diabetic after my transplant. Then two years ago, I got diagnosed with breast cancer on a routine mammogram. I thought it was the end of the world. I knew what I was facing with my kidney problems, but breast cancer, that was something else altogether.

Our health is the only thing we have, and we have to treat it with kid gloves because it could be gone and things happen so quickly.

“In June 2019, I had my double mastectomy and in February 2020, I had reconstruction surgery and recovered during quarantine. The hardest part was recognizing that my health was just always going to be hanging in the balance; I was always going to have to fight for something. Then my kidney donor told me she had colon cancer and that was what made me decide I had to make a change for my health. I was given the gift of being in remission from leukemia, getting a second chance with a kidney, being cancer-free from breast cancer. It won’t always be perfect. I face every day and the challenges that it brings with positivity.

“I joined a weight-loss group online a year ago. I lost 40 pounds and now I’m coaching other people to do the same thing. A year later, my labs are good, and my donor is well. I’ve had to deal with so much and manage so many things that aren’t normal to most people. So, whatever gets thrown at me, I bat it back.

“Our health is the only thing we have, and we have to treat it with kid gloves because it could be gone and things happen so quickly. I think no matter what you go through in this life, no matter what cards you’re dealt, you have to go through it with grace. Just do everything you can to be healthy because every penny spent on that is one less dollar spent on being unwell.”

‘While being born, I almost died. It’s why I became a physician.’

Stony Brook

“My mother had to get an emergency C-section after realizing I wasn’t moving in the womb. It turned out my umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. I only had about a half-hour to survive, so the C-section was done immediately, less than 10 minutes after my mom went through the ER doors.

“While growing up my grandmother said the doctors who saved me had a mission, which then became my mission in life; that I should become a doctor, to serve and cure others. That inspired me.

“I’m originally from Peru, where there’s a great tropical medicine institute. I studied infectious diseases, especially because of cholera, which in Peru impacts a lot of people. When something like that becomes a problem, it’s a challenge to stop or to control it.

“I made my way to Stony Brook University Hospital for its strong research program, which meant opportunities where I could make a difference. Over the past five years, I’ve focused on Lyme Disease, a common vector-borne illness.

I remember one patient who said he was suffering for a year, and we started his treatment all over again with testing, which came back positive for Lyme

“I had never seen Lyme before coming to Stony Brook. There are ticks in Peru, but to learn about tick-borne diseases here on Long Island, I had to start from scratch. One thing I found were patients not thinking they had a tickborne infection, even with the telltale rashes on their skin. One even told me he saw three doctors, but none gave him a Lyme disease test, although he had symptoms and the rashes.

“These kinds of things really hit me because these people are suffering and going several places but not getting answers. I remember one patient who said he was suffering for a year, and we started his treatment all over again with testing, which came back positive for Lyme. After using antibiotics for a while, he completely resolved his symptoms. That was one of those cases that makes you feel like you are helping people as you should be.

“I think the future should be to develop a vaccine for tick bites, as we’ll never be able to eliminate ticks, so right now it’s about finding answers and then finding a vaccine. That would be meaningful and rewarding, which is exactly like what my grandmom wanted. I can’t see myself doing any other job.”

The person profiled here has been a guest on Newsday Live.