They Hold the Hands of International Patients

We are IU Health

January 14, 2019

Maria Siddons and Hamzah Radwan work behind-the-scenes of IU Health. Few people know that they are the ones who help patients who travel thousands of miles away from home.

There’s a world map inside IU Health’s University Hospital sixth floor offices. It may not mean a whole lot to many but to Maria Siddons and Hamzah Radwan, it represents their passion. Siddons and Radwan serve as destination service coordinators for IU Health.

What does that mean? It means they have welcomed, comforted, and served patients from close to 50 different countries.

When a male patient from China learns about Dr. Lawrence Einhorn’s successful treatment of testicular cancer using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant, he reaches out to destination services. By the time the patient contacts Siddons or Radwan, he has already researched physicians around the world and knows that IU Health provides the answer – sometimes the last hope. But traveling 10,000 miles for treatment isn’t the same as driving across town or even across state lines.

That’s where Siddons and Radwan come in.

“Every day patients are coming to a country where people speak a different language, have different cultural and societal norms. Knowing that we make a difference for people who would otherwise be helpless is what keeps us going. We know we make a difference because we hear it from patients, staff members and providers,” said Radwan, who speaks fluent Arabic. He graduated from the Kelley School of Business in 2013 and came to IU Health as a contract navigator for a year before his appointment as a full-time destination service coordinator in 2015.

At the time, IU Health was receiving a number of patient referrals from the Middle East by way of the US Embassy. A big part of Radwan’s job was to serve as an interpreter for the patients, assist with registration and help them navigate their stay inside and outside the hospital. Those roles are still key but over the years, many more have been added as patients’ needs arise.

Radwan still remembers one of his first patients who traveled from the Middle East for a liver transplant in 2014.

“I spent the majority of my time with this patient inside and outside the hospital and after an six-month stay, I went to visit the family in the Middle East. It also happens to be where my family is from. Two years after that they attended my engagement in Jordan,” said Radwan, who is married to a teacher, Heba Taan. “You spend so much time with the family that you build lasting connections. They become like your family.”

Some patients speak English, are more familiar with the United States and need minimal assistance, but Radwan and Siddons are available – whatever the needs may be.

“We have patients from Canada who need little help from us. Sometimes there are special requests like assisting a niece get transportation to the States,” said Siddons. Transportation, housing, and grocery shopping, insurance issues – anything a typical patient may need – that’s where Siddons and Radwan come in. Their contact with the patient begins long before they are registered at IU Health, and continues long after their hospital stay. Many remain in the States for many months during their recovery. When they return to their homeland Radwan and Siddons are as close as a phone call.

Siddons, from Venezuela, speaks fluent Spanish, and received a degree in business administration. She later obtained her LPN and worked as a bilingual triage nurse at various hospitals before joining IU Health in 2014. She and her husband David have three boys – 14, 11, and 6.

Next to the world map are a number of personal notes – many are hand-written “thank you” messages from patients and families. In a typical month, Siddons and Radwan have about four patients they are assisting. It has been as high as 20.

“Wherever they come from, we are the last resource in some cases,” said Siddons. “We have world-renowned physicians and the reputations are what we want to uphold.”

There are typical patients and there have been patients of notoriety that have been served by IU Heath.

“We don’t treat people the wealthiest because they deserve it. We do it for humanity, not because the patient is special. We do it because we want to be there for them. These are people in need,” said Siddons. Like Radwan, her relationships with patients are long lasting. By the time they make the decision to come to IU Health, many patients have already negotiated with international insurances for coverage, re-financed their home, applied for loans, or accepted help from their communities.

“They come to us at a time they are vulnerable. They know they can depend on us,” said Siddons. “I just received a text message yesterday from a woman in El Salvador. Her husband had completed chemotherapy and has a new image he wants to share with our doctors. She simply wanted to know ‘what’s next?

“They are grateful we are part of their lives and we are grateful that we can show them that we are a community that cares.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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