December 22, 2023

The last thing Kaiser Permanente member Paul Cruz remembers before his fall is rushing through the San Francisco International Airport with his 79-year-old mother, trying to make their connecting flight to Guam.

Shortly afterward, Cruz woke up at the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center, surrounded by his family and still intubated post-surgery. His care team performed an emergency craniotomy to fix a brain bleed he suffered after he had a seizure and fell.

Cruz, 43, spent the next month in intensive recovery at the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo. He is still healing from the incident, which happened on April 30, 2023, and he credits every member of his Kaiser Permanente care team for making him feel taken care of and helping him survive and recover.

“I’m taking it one day at a time, and my speech, physical, and occupational therapies are going well,” Cruz said in a recent interview. “But it really helps when you have an amazing care team around you. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

From relearning how to talk to “graduation”

At the rehabilitation center, many KP therapists and nurses worked with Cruz on helping him relearn how to talk and walk, under the supervision of Samuel Park, MD, who was his doctor throughout his stay. Cruz, who also has diabetes, developed a lymphedema, or localized swelling, on his left arm, which meant he also had to learn how to use his nondominant right hand.

“It’s been one thing after another, and it was all addressed so quickly,” Cruz said. “Everyone on my care team was on it, and they brought their ‘A’ game to help me recover.”

When Cruz was discharged from the rehabilitation center, his care team presented him with a green KP T-shirt that was then signed by every member of his care team. The gesture has been a tradition at the center since before Dr. Park joined the center 10 years ago.

“It’s a nice touch for our patients,” Dr. Park said. “We call it graduation when our patients are discharged, and the T-shirt is signed like a yearbook.”

“It was like a little going away celebration,” Cruz said. “It was really special to me.”

Dr. Park said he tries to be as genuine and honest as possible with his patients to build a rapport and trust with them.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that patients see right through, so you can’t appear fake or put up a front,” Dr. Park said. “It’s important to treat patients with respect, honesty, and without any judgement about who they are to build trust with them. Once they trust you, they are much more likely to follow your recommendations and medical advice.”

The green T-shirt Paul Cruz received upon being discharged.

A continuing recovery

Cruz’s healing journey continued after the rehabilitation center with the help of his primary care physician Allan Santos, DO, an internal medicine doctor at the Vallejo Medical Center. Cruz had to receive specialized care for various aspects of his condition. To this day, Cruz attends regular speech, physical, occupational, and mental health therapy appointments.

Dr. Santos has been instrumental in the cohesiveness of his care, Cruz said. He likened Dr. Santos to a coach of his own personal care delivery “football” team.

Dr. Santos said he creates caring moments with his patients by getting to know them beyond their medical condition. He recalled talking to Cruz about his Guamanian background when they first met and connecting around Guam’s culture and food.

“I just try to do the right thing — listen and spend time with the patient,” Dr. Santos said. “As a primary care doctor, finding enough time can be challenging, but I try to do my best.”

A few weeks ago, Cruz was happy to run into several members of his care team, including Dr. Park, at the rehabilitation center when he went back for an appointment.

“I was shocked at how well he looked,” Dr. Park said. “And of course, this is why we do this. That’s what I’m here for. I was so happy for him. It felt very gratifying.”

This article originally appeared in My KP .