The calm after the storm

| Katherine Southwick

Este blog esta posteado en español e inglés.

When Irma Rivera relocated to Orlando, Florida, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, she experienced a painful flare. She believes that the change in weather, combined with her fear of the “unknown,” triggered the breakout. “My skin was red, and when it opened up, it looked like I was burned. I couldn’t bend over or touch things. And when I did, my skin broke, which was extremely painful,” recalls Rivera, who has had psoriasis for more than 20 years.

To make matters worse, Rivera had lost her health insurance when she left her teaching job in Puerto Rico and was unable to access anything but over-the-counter topicals. Immediately, Rivera began calling dermatologists in the Orlando area. “No one would see me because I didn’t have an insurance plan,” she says. “I was so scared that nothing was going to work. And that’s when I called NPF.”

Navigating uncharted territory

An avid reader of NPF’s website and blog, Rivera was already familiar with the Patient Navigation Center. She called and was connected to Mercy Rivera, a Bilingual Patient Navigator. Rivera explained that, without insurance, she was treating her psoriasis with topicals, which weren’t working for her current disease severity.

Mercy helped Rivera outline her options and suggested contacting her dermatologist in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for advice. Rivera got a hold of her dermatologist by phone, even though his office wasn’t open because of the hurricane. He referred her to another dermatologist, Jose R. Gonzalez Torres, M.D., whom she was able to see during a planned visit back to the island to check on her mother. Torres prescribed Rivera a biologic and gave her the first injection at no cost. Immediately, she says her symptoms began to improve.  

Without insurance, Rivera worried she couldn’t afford the medication. That’s when Mercy sent her information on the drug's prescription financial assistance program. A few weeks later, Rivera was approved and self-injected the next dose at home. “Talking to Mercy was a great relief. I feel so grateful to know the Foundation is here for me.”

Clear skies ahead

Months after Hurricane Maria, Rivera reports nearly clear skin. “Before, I was about 80 percent covered. Now, I don’t even notice anything,” she says. 

During the time Rivera was working with NPF, she secured a job as a second grade and ESL teacher at an international school in Orlando. The mother of four describes her work as “stressful,” but she’s “learning a lot.” 

Throughout her journey, Rivera has also learned a great deal about living with psoriasis. “I believe you have to take care of your body,” she says. “Psoriasis is something serious, not something you can control yourself. You have to go to the doctor! It’s a condition that can get you really depressed [if left unmanaged]. It makes you want to get away from society because you’re feeling different.”

Rivera also encourages people not to settle for a treatment that isn’t working. “Find a doctor who cares about you and is willing to try something that works,” she says. “When something doesn’t work, tell them you don’t want it anymore and find something that does work. If you don’t, you’re going to get yourself into a situation that’s not good.”

NPF’s Patient Navigation Center offers one-on-one assistance in English and Spanish. If you have questions about your disease or have trouble accessing treatment, contact an NPF Patient Navigator. We’ll help you find solutions to live your healthiest life with psoriatic disease.


Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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