Panel of speakers at Adventist Health Sonora

Stories of Hope from Sonora

Legacy Culture

Alex Bryan: Welcome to beautiful Sonora, California, almost 3000 feet above sea level here in the amazing foothills. In my hand, a gift for my friend Michelle Fuentes, the President of Adventist Health Sonora. Yes. A beautiful cup of coffee from Dale. I highly recommend it. So delighted today to be in conversation with pediatrician Sheila Ponzio, cardiologist Melanie Davidson, and our hospital president, Michelle Fuentes. Listen in. I am absolutely delighted to be in Sonora, California, on the campus of Adventist Health Sonora. This place is amazing. It's beautiful.

Sheila Ponzio, MD: It's beautiful.

Michelle Fuentes: It's beautiful.

Alex Bryan: I want to come live here. This is incredible. Thank you for being here. I want to ask you some questions about hope, and how you've seen hope play out over the last year, what that's looked like for you. And so, I'm going to turn to you Melanie first, and just talk to us a little bit about hope from your perspective.

Melanie Davidson, MD: My story about hope is more related to my daughter, Phoenix. When Phoenix was born, I was so blessed to be a mother and I wanted to celebrate every milestone with her, I was so proud of her. And when she was five years old, I took her into her first day of kindergarten, and she was so cute. She had these little pigtails and her backpack was bigger than she was, I thought she was going to fall over. And I brought her into the classroom and I thought, this is right. She's going to learn to be independent. She's going to learn to be a good friend. And then time went on and now it's 2021, and my Phoenix is a senior in high school now. And I can't believe where the time went. My little pigtails. I'd turn around and she grew up behind my back.

I admit I'm having a hard time with it. I already miss her. I already think about the days when she won't be there and so, it's kind of upsetting. But then to add to that, this senior year is different. So, with COVID there's no prom, probably no graduation, and that upsets me and I'm disappointed. But Phoenix, she can't be bothered. She's out. I hear her on her Zoom classroom and she's laughing. I can hear her laughing because one of her classmates didn't unmute. She talks to me about colleges and she still has a sparkle in her eye, and she's planning for her future and she's excited, and I'm excited for her. And then I realize what I'm seeing, and that's hope. I feel like in this darkest year, Phoenix and our children were hope for the future.

Alex Bryan: How beautiful, a mother inspired by her daughter, hope amid all of the challenges and darkness. Beautiful. Sheila, Talk to us a little bit about hope.

Sheila Ponzio, MD: When I think about hope in general, it's one of those lofty aspirations. Yes, you want to be hopeful, and I think of it as sort of a generalized optimism. But when our darkest days happened, and there was so much death and sickness around us, and all of a sudden we had the vaccine, to me that was a really tangible physical injection of hope, literally. And I felt it when we as staff got to have our first vaccines together, we all could not stop smiling, some of us even cried with joy. We just felt absolutely like we are lifting ourselves out of this.

So, there's a huge ray of hope ahead. And then when we started administering vaccines to the public here in Sonora, you would see it on people's faces and it was addicting. I keep going back, and Michelle keeps seeing me there, like, "You're here again?" And I'm like, it's an addicting feeling of hope because they have spent so much time in fear waiting for their chance to get out. And many of them elderly and lonely, afraid of getting this illness. And to know that that vaccine embodies hope for them, and you can just see it on their faces and feel it. Of course my favorite was giving the vaccines and I'd say to people, especially their first one and they were so excited, and there's a moment when I've got it drawn up and I'm ready to give it, and I'll say, "Are you ready?" And most of the time they'll say, "Yeah." But one lady in particular said, "Oh, honey, I am so ready." And it just was such a gut punch. It felt like this is just absolutely the best thing that's happening in the world right this minute and I'm part of it. And that for me is why I keep experiencing hope at those vaccine clinics.

Alex Bryan: You really see a connection between the provision of healthcare when it's really needed, and experience of hope for the person that you're serving.

Sheila Ponzio, MD: Absolutely. These are people who can't wait to hug the stuffing out of their grandkids again. And it's really about the connection with their families. It's not that they want to take another cruise, or that they want to eat in a restaurant again, it's seeing their family and holding those grandchildren and spending time together on holidays.

Alex Bryan: Oh, that's absolutely fantastic. I love that.

Michelle Fuentes: I just want to comment here because when you work in healthcare, you realize that people don't come to you on their best days. They've fallen off the ladder. They've cut their finger when they were making dinner, they have to come get their mammogram or go see the doctor for their annual exam. And so, it's a have to, and the COVID clinic has been a want to. And so, I think for every person who works in healthcare, it has been one of the most cup-filling experiences to have people excited to come and see you. They want what you have and they're coming with open arms. And for healthcare people, that just doesn't happen very often.

Alex Bryan: Michelle, how have you seen hope?

Michelle Fuentes: As I reflect back on the last 12 months, I've watched people lack relationships, they've lacked touch. And mostly, I think, in our elderly population. They are the population that our nation said, "You need to stay home. You need to stay away from others. You are susceptible to this disease and you need to stay home." And they've listened. I remember this one lady walked up to me and she had on lavender pants and a lavender sweater, and her hair was done and her makeup was done. And I said, "Wow, you look really nice coming to our vaccine clinic today." She said, "Honey, this is the first time I've been out of the house for a year." She said, "I wanted to dress up for this, it's worth dressing up for." And she was just excited to get her vaccine that day. And I'll never forget her in her purple walking in.

And she wasn't unique. Many, many people came dressed up for the event. They put on their best. Then 28 days later, I happened to see these same people as I'm checking them back in again. This time I said to them, "What will you do in 14 days when you are fully vaccinated? What's the first thing you're going to do?" And almost every single person said, "I'm going to hug somebody." So, then the next question is naturally, "Well who? Who are you going to hug?" Lots of people said, "I'm going to hug my grandkids. I can't wait to go see my family." But a lot of people said, "The first person I see." They have been so excited to get the shot, to get out of their house, to reconnect with friends, to rekindle relationships, to have touch in their lives. And so the fact that we've been able to provide this vaccine clinic, and give our community hope that we're going to get through this, we're going to get through it together has been very cup-filling for me, and I know for all the people that have worked this clinic with me.

Alex Bryan: I'll never think of lavender ever again without ever hearing that story. So, you told me in a previous conversation, as well, your husband's in healthcare, about the importance of being able to as a family in the evening kind of rally through this time, how that's brought you hope.

Michelle Fuentes: Yeah.

Alex Bryan: I'm putting you on the spot but I'm wondering if you'd be willing just to share a little bit about how that's been so powerful for you personally.

Michelle Fuentes: Well, I don't think it's something we sit around and say, "Let's talk about hope." Right? But like these ladies, you called and said, "Let's talk about hope. Where have you seen hope play out?" And so, I go home at night and we have a ritual where we sit down as a family at night for dinner, and we listen to the kids talk about their day. My husband talks about his, I'll talk about mine. And in the back of my mind I'm thinking, where's my story going to come about hope? And then I start listening to my husband talk about his day, seeing his patients in his office, doing his virtual visits. And he told a story about this one patient who had been having significant back pain for a really long time, and he helped her through something and got her on some meds, and she said to him over the phone, "I love you. You've given me so much hope." And I'm looking at him like, wow, just like that.

The day I come home wondering about my story about hope and there it is. So, my immediate reaction was that I was jealous because I thought clinicians get all the good stories, but I thought this is beautiful. It was wonderful to see it play out in him. And the wife in me saw how that touched him, how having a patient tell him that they loved him, that he gave them hope, how that touched him very deeply. So, it was really beautiful thing.

Alex Bryan: Yeah. Thank you for sharing. Michelle, Sheila, Melanie, thank you so much for being willing to share so beautifully and authentically. You've gifted Adventist Health and beyond by sharing. Thank you.