Portrait of Jenny De la Torre
For as long as she can remember, Jenny de la Torre Castro has wanted to help, heal and nurse those whose need is greatest, to stand by their side and relieve their pain. She was confronted with poverty and social inequalities from an early age. In Puquio, the part of Peru where she grew up, there were too few doctors to alleviate the widespread suffering and illness. It was this that drove her to become a doctor herself. In the 1980s, she studied medicine in Germany, far from her Peruvian homeland, with the firm intention to return and help her country′s poorest people.
Things happened differently. Jenny De la Torre settled down with her son in Berlin, searching for a way to stay true to her ideals as a doctor in a different context. In 1989, she started her specialist training as a children′s surgeon at the Berlin Charité hospital, part of the Humboldt University, today Campus Virchow-Klinikum. After successfully completing her doctorate, she worked in various clinics in Germany and Austria. In addition, she devoted herself to a medical project for pregnant mothers in need.
As a successful doctor, she was able to help many patients. But this wasn′t enough for her. The medical field was not compassionate. Specialists like her were asked to treat patients using the most advanced medical knowledge with as low a rate of error as possible and, above all, quickly. Little time was left for conversation or contact, and every word not strictly related to the medical matter in hand was one too many. After all, there were always so many patients waiting for treatment. But Jenny De la Torre wanted to do more than just carry out perfect operations. She wanted to see for herself how her patients recovered, to ask them whether their convalescence went well and to be someone they could confide in. At that time, she had no idea that she would soon have the opportunity to make her ideals as a doctor a reality.
In 1994, she began to treat homeless people at the railway station Ostbahnhof in Berlin. There, she examined 25 patients every day, taking care of sores, wounds and ulcers with basic medical supplies, relieving pain and distributing essential medication. Besides skin problems such as impetigo, which almost everyone living on the streets catches at some point, the homeless are most prone to parasites and respiratory illnesses. Dealing with this demands strong nerves and a lot of tact and sensitivity, especially when dealing with those suffering due to alcoholism and drug addiction. It wasn′t easy for her at first. But in the end, she told herself: you have to accept people as they are. After all, they didn′t choose this life for themselves. She listened patiently to every patient who came to her practice, taking her time and gaining their confidence in this way. She knows from experience that homeless people in particular need this attention because they are in a sense “socially ill”.
This highly dedicated doctor fights against bureaucratic hurdles. “A society as rich as Germany′s simply must manage to take care of its poorest citizens,” she says.
De la Torre’s persistence and reliability gave her acceptance among her homeless patients as “their” doctor. In the meantime, many have started to come to her regularly. Yet she is happiest when a patient visits her after a long time to tell her that he is off the streets and living an independent life again. A homeless person can only be properly healed when society offers him a way out of his destitution.
Her commitment also brings her increasing recognition within the medical profession. Specialists ask her for help and continue the treatments that she has recommended for homeless patients. The creation of a medical practice for the homeless, an entirely unique initiative, is increasingly taken seriously throughout Europe. Young medical students and trainees for medical professions visit the institution in order to learn from the experience gained there. Jenny De la Torre Castro is glad to pass her knowledge on, and has given lectures at universities, education institutes and benefit events. She collects donations so that the practice can acquire better equipment. In 1997, she received the highest decoration awarded by the state from the hands of President Roman Herzog for her outstanding achievements.
In December 2003, the Jenny De la Torre Foundation celebrated its first birthday in Berlin. Its goal is to ensure the long-term provision of medical care for homeless people in Berlin.
After these successes, it was a great blow to discover that her employer, the MUT-Company for Health mbh, a subsidiary of the Berlin Medical Association, intended to reduce her hours at the practice after October 2003 from 40 to 25 a week. Jenny De la Torre Castro found this unacceptable. So in the interests of her patients, she ended her working contract with MUT. “I have built this project up and I won′t stand by and watch its destruction,” she said. Though such a step may have been entirely comprehensible to her patients, it was a heavy loss. But nevertheless, Jenny De la Torre looks confidently to the future. For her, it’s not the end, but the beginning of a new project.
Portrait of Jenny De la Torre Castro, a representative of the honorary work association "Verbundnetz der Wärme" was taken from the website www.verbundnetz-der-waerme.de, reworked and completed February 2004.
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