Gabriel & Diego—Brotherly Love

Gabriel & DiegoIn addition to sharing DNA, an apartment, and all of their classes last semester, Gabriel and Diego share a condition called ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a painful form of arthritis that affects the spine and other joints, eventually causing them to fuse. For the brothers, underlying the already-challenging experience of being new immigrants is the added obstacle of navigating a serious medical condition in an unfamiliar healthcare landscape.

But the pair has thrived in the two years since their father, who settled in Arlington over 15 years ago, helped them move to the US from Bolivia. Immediately, they enrolled in English classes, found work at a local grocery store, and began a GED course through the Arlington Community Learning program of Arlington Public Schools.

Gabriel was diagnosed with AS when he was nine years old and had been on medication since then to minimize his pain and slow down the progression of his disease. But when the brothers moved, Gabriel couldn’t afford to keep up with treatment. Eventually, his symptoms got so bad that he couldn’t walk up the steps of the bus he takes to school. The school nurse came to the rescue when she shared information about Arlington Free Clinic—but by that point, he’d already been off of medication for over a year.

Gabriel was immediately put back on treatment and began receiving physical therapy from Irene Hruskoci, PT, and regular care from Dr. Yousef Zarbalian, our volunteer rheumatologist. Diego became an AFC patient as well, and learned that he too has AS. But thanks to early intervention, combined with counseling to help him adjust to his new diagnosis in a healthy way, Diego has done very well.

When the brothers first came to the Clinic, the most hope that Gabriel could muster was for a little relief—it was painful to sleep, to walk to the store, to sit in class—and “pain always reminds you that there’s something terribly wrong with your body.” These days, when the brothers talk about their futures and starting community college next year, their dreams are much bigger.


Read our entire 2018 Annual Report here.

Message from our Medical Director: Caring For Very Seriously Ill Patients
Message from our President: What Our Dental Expansion Will Mean
AFC Highlights, July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018
Why I Volunteer: Margot Wheeler, MD
Donor Profile: “Lyfting” barriers to care
Practice Spotlight: Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group Cardiology
Message from our Board Chair