First-Ever Couple Completes Health Guardians Program Together

Published on April 13, 2017

Jonathan was adopted from a Catholic orphanage in Vietnam and arrived in the United States in 1973. Because his adoptive father was a member of the Air Force, he was afforded the chance to travel the country and the world, learning seven different languages and a myriad of agricultural, culinary and other skills along the way. In 2001, he married his wife, Kaye.

He had suffered from multiple medical problems, including breathing issues, as long as he could remember, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Jonathan learned he’d been exposed to Agent Orange as a child. From there, his medical state continued to deteriorate. In 2013, he had to have his right lung removed completely.

Jonathan & Kaye

Jonathan and Kaye pictured with the garden they tend at Ciara.

Jonathan and Kaye, who now found themselves homeless, began researching the best places to receive treatment and decided that New Orleans was best equipped to care for Jonathan’s medical needs. They arrived in 2016 and connected with Health Care for the Homeless, an initiative of the City of New Orleans that offers primary health care to people in the area regardless of ability to pay for services. Shortly after, Jonathan’s left lung collapsed and had to be surgically repaired. He spent 22 days in the hospital.

Because they were a stable couple trying to get their feet on the ground and their life back on track, Health Care for the Homeless referred Jonathan and Kaye to Catholic Charities’ Health Guardians program. Thanks to a generous grant from the Humana Foundation, Health Guardians and Ciara Independent Living, another CCANO program, were able to work together to meet all of Jonathan and Kaye’s needs.

Ciara Independent Living is an independent living apartment complex for adults that creates a stigma-free and safe living environment and fosters a sense of community. Health Guardians is an intensive, integrated care model that addresses and removes barriers to health care, helping patients achieve self-sufficiency and better quality of life.

Working as a team, these two programs and other community organizations have helped Jonathan and Kaye medically, financially, socially, emotionally and so much more. Ciara Independent Living gave the couple a roof over their head and a place for Jonathan to recover from surgery other than a homeless shelter. The complex also gave them a sense of community and a support system during Jonathan’s recovery and beyond.

Health Guardians helped the couple apply for Medicaid, find doctors, schedule appointments and meet copays for their medications. They also helped them acquire food stamps, a government-issued cell phone, bus passes, identification cards, cleaning supplies for their apartment, a nebulizer machine to ease Jonathan’s respiratory problems and more. “They’ve been such a big help,” Kaye commented. “I don’t know where we’d be without them.”

Jonathan and Kaye are grateful to the Ciara and Health Guardians programs for giving them a place to live and help in so many ways, but they’re most grateful that this program allows them to remain together as a couple. If they’d had to live in a homeless shelter, they’d be forced to spend the majority of their time apart. “We’ve been able to accomplish so much together as a family,” Jonathan said.

The couple is part of a group called “Krewe de Lose,” which incentivizes residents to make healthy lifestyle changes. They were given bikes to use for both transportation and exercise. Jonathan also tends to a small garden in the yard at Ciara, cooking with what he grows. He’s hoping to help grow a new phase of Krewe de Lose, teaching residents to cook in healthy and innovative ways.

Brittany Simmons, Program Coordinator of Ciara Independent Living, commented, “Them being here has really helped foster a sense of community. They help out a lot; they’re just great residents.”

Helping others is important to Jonathan and Kaye, who are grateful for the help they’ve received and want to pay it forward to others in the community. They hope to soon begin volunteering with other Catholic Charities programs. Since he’s been in their shoes and knows their struggles, Jonathan wants to work with English as a Second Language students and refugee families.

Moving forward, Jonathan and Kaye have a bright future ahead full of possibilities and opportunity. Health Guardians is working with them to secure disability and unemployment benefits so they can branch out on their own, and Jonathan is researching online education programs in the hopes of becoming an electrical engineer.

Paula Stewart, a Health Guardians Patient Navigator who’s had the pleasure of working with Jonathan and Kaye, commented,” They’re a motivated couple; they have the desire to be self-sufficient and successful. They’re the perfect example of what we do and what we stand for.”