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Ayudando a Su Hijo en el Hospital

Your Child in the Hospital

Mario and Oralia Tercero
Come to America
and Discover a Health Library

by Linda Lamb

The translation team for Ayudando a su Hijo en el Hospital (the English title Your Child in the Hospital) is Mario and Oralia Tercero, working with staff from the PlaneTree Health Library in San Jose, California. The Tercero's personal search for health information precipitated their move to the United States and eventually brought them to PlaneTree Health Library.

Mario was born in Honduras. When he was young, he had only rudimentary English in school, such as words like "cat" or "table." However, from 1985 to 1995, Mario lived in San Jose with relatives there. He attended high school and took ESL classes. Thus, his first "translation" work was getting through high school in the US.

Mario returned to Honduras when his mother became ill; as the only unmarried child, it was his family duty. While studying Industrial Engineering at university, he met Oralia. They studied together every night until midnight.

After their wedding, Oralia continued earning her bachelor's degree in Business Administration while Mario worked as computer system administrator for Coca Cola's distribution department. The computer system was in English as were the technical specifications and instructions. After training himself in technical English, he then trained the monolingual Spanish-speaking employees to operate the computer handheld devices. That translation job was two-fold:

  • Technical to everyday language (supplying the practical context and explanation an operator would need)

  • English to Spanish
While finishing at the university, Oralia worked in HIV/AIDs prevention and at a doctor's office with Spanish-speaking clients. She did not speak English, and for two years studied ESL on Saturdays. She practiced her translation by listening to English news.

Three months before Mario and Oralia moved to the US, Mario got very sick with a digestive condition. He went to five doctors. No one, including a gastroenterologist specialist, could tell him what was wrong. The doctor who finally diagnosed his disorder was a rheumatologist who had studied in Spain, where the problem is more common.

Mario and Oralia looked for information on the condition, but it was very difficult to find. Public libraries in Honduras had no information on health. Oralia assured her husband that when they went to the US, they would keep looking in the libraries there. They came to San Jose in early 2000 to stay with relatives and start a new life. The day after they arrived, Oralia went by bus to the main public library. Librarians there referred her to the PlaneTree Health Library. She remembers feeling lost and frightened, but getting a lot of help.

"I only knew what Mario's condition was called in Spanish. I was so worried about asking them about it. I thought, 'If I give them the wrong name of the disease, they will give me the wrong information. I could kill Mario!'

"I remember the librarian giving me all the attention. I remember her kind eyes on me. I was freezing. It was February and I missed the warm weather of Honduras. But the library had the fireplace going. It was not like any library. I found so much information. It was amazing."

On a return visit, Oralia learned of the need for bilingual volunteers. She volunteered every week for eight months. Her English improved greatly and she was able to help people who preferred to get information in Spanish.

When they first got to San Jose, the couple did not have health insurance or money for any medications. So, they based Mario's treatment on the diet recommendations found in the PlaneTree books and articles. Mario recalls, "I got better! I was able to get a job. Then, I got insurance."

After medical treatment during their first year in San Jose, Mario regained his health. The couple was able to get a car and an apartment of their own. Oralia got a work permit and resident status. Mario had become a citizen in 1995.

While Oralia was volunteering at PlaneTree, library director Candace Ford began to groom her for a position as assistant in the branch library at the Grail Community Resource Center. Oralia now combines that work with another part-time position at one of PlaneTree's health literacy branches.

Mario worked for WebVan and is now in public transportation in San Jose. His longterm career goal is to go back to school to prepare for work in the health and human service arenas or other community-based agencies. "I'm fortunate to be truly fluent in both languages," Mario says, "and would like to use that ability to help people live better and learn more, especially about their health."

Getting healthcare information into the hands of Spanish speakers is a passion for both Oralia and Mario. Their translation of Your Child in the Hospital was "a big project for us. We worked hard to use Spanish terms that will be understood by people from any Spanish-speaking culture. The book will help many Hispanic families. It is also valuable for any person in the hospital, child or adult. We learned a lot about US hospitals from reading the English version. We are proud to help Spanish-speaking families get what they need too."

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