For someone with cancer, a simple tooth infection can mean a delay in receiving lifesaving care. When a walk-in patient with several infected teeth came to ATSU-ASDOH alumna Golnaz Pahlevanlou, DMD, MPH, ’13, at San Ysidro Health in San Diego, there was much more than a toothache on the line. The patient needed clearance to begin chemotherapy. Because it weakens the immune system, the treatment that could save his life was on hold until the infection was addressed. Without dental insurance, the patient had nowhere else to turn.
When it comes to cancer treatment, timing is everything. Dr. Pahlevanlou knew there wasn’t a moment to spare. The patient had several infected teeth – more than she would typically remove in one appointment. However, he had traveled from Mexico to visit the clinic and was in a hurry to get home and feed his pets. He wouldn’t be able to come in for a second appointment the next day. She decided to remove some of the infected teeth in the morning and asked the patient to return later in the day for the remaining extractions.
“If there’s one little thing that I can do, I’m going to do it,” says Dr. Pahlevanlou.
The patient returned that afternoon with his wife. Brimming with gratitude for Dr. Pahlevanlou’s help and overwhelmed by emotion, they shared their love story with her. Though they met in their late 40s, they were each other’s first love. They connected online in the early days of internet dating and exchanged emails for several months before meeting face to face. They had been together for more than 20 years, a beautiful example of happily ever after that began on Yahoo! Personals. Dr. Pahlevanlou was touched by the couple’s story.
“There was still so much sparkle in their marriage,” she says. “You could tell how much they cared for each other.”
A few days later, Dr. Pahlevanlou called the patient to see how he was doing. He had been cleared to begin chemotherapy the next week. Thanks to Dr. Pahlevanlou’s compassion, his cancer treatment would begin on schedule. He and his wife could turn the page to the next chapter of their love story.
San Ysidro Community Health Center is one of the only options for many people in desperate need of care.
“We are the safety net,” says Dr. Pahlevanlou. “No one gets turned away.”
As a student at ATSU-ASDOH, Dr. Pahlevanlou embraced the University’s mission and learned to love community health. It’s why she decided to pursue a master of public health degree.
“ATSU-ASDOH encouraged our passion for serving the underserved, let it grow, and gave us the education to know what community health centers need,” she says.
Dr. Pahlevanlou gained more than a great education at ATSU-ASDOH, however. It’s where her own love story began. She met her husband, Mohammad Naqvi, DO, ’13, when he was a student at ATSU-SOMA. He caught her eye competing in a Mr. A.T. Still pageant on campus, and they were introduced by mutual friends. Dr. Naqvi now works as an internist at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center. Although they are in different health professions, Drs. Pahlevanlou and Naqvi share a love of helping others lead healthy, happy lives.
While working at a community health center may not always be a fairy tale, Dr. Pahlevanlou’s patients get her through the toughest days. She has found her happily ever after, in love and community health.