The first time Santiago Funes visited a doctor in his 25 years as a migrant farm worker was after he suffered a heart attack and had to undergo open-heart surgery at the Johnson City Medical Center. Funes said he does not know what caused his heart attack, and the reason he had never visited a doctor was because he did not have transportation.
Before his surgery, Funes did not have any kind of medical record, and the medical record he now has in East Tennessee will remain there while he travels back home to Mexico. Since Funes will not have his medical record, any doctor he sees in the future will have a hard time learning his medical history.
Twenty-year-old Sherry Loera Martínez is the first in her family to attend college in the United States, and she’s 1,400 miles away from home.
“I was prepared for everything but the culture shock when I got here,” Loera said.
Loera goes entire semesters without seeing her family because her closest relatives, her uncles, live in Altanta. Her parents are not legal residents of the United States, so they can’t cross the border at all. Loera only gets to visit them and her younger siblings during summer breaks.
It’s a humid Sunday morning. The streets of Johnson City are unusually busy for this time of the day. A local marathon is taking place and police officers are directing traffic at each intersection. Exhausted-looking participants jog by a parking lot on the fringe of ETSU’s campus where a group of people have begun to gather. One by one, cars exit the stagnant line of traffic, pass through the shadow of the looming Mini Dome and make their way to the parking lot.
One of the last people to arrive steps out of her SUV and removes her bicycle from the back. As she does this, several other riders carve wide arcs around the parking lot, warming up for the ride while they wait. The woman, sporting a white windbreaker, blue shades and full riding gear, strolls up to the main group of riders, which has now gathered near the back of the parking lot. She greets the others with a familiar smile. After a minute or two of friendly conversation, the riders mount their bikes and she is off with a quick wave.
The most important decisions in life are often the ones that reveal themselves when you least expect. For Dr. Joyce Troxler the combination of a newly discovered interest and a family medical concern led her to medical school. That decision led her back to the mountains of East Tennessee, where she grew up.
The Jonesborough, Tenn. native was “rambling” and trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, she was working with the New Mexico State Office of Archeology when she shared a revelation with her father.
“I had thought about doing forensic pathology and my dad was like, ‘You know, this means you should go to medical school,’” Troxler said.
Twenty-eight-year-old Meylin Menjivar Mejia laughs about some of the things she heard when she first came to Tennessee. Sometimes she did not understand things people said. Now, she will even say Southern phrases herself.
“The first time I heard ‘bless your heart,’ I just looked at the woman like, what? I did not understand what she meant at all. Now, I just know it’s a Southern thing,” said Mejia.