Mario Flores

Oct. 15, 2021
Mario Flores, an interpreter, brought a patient who was on dialysis for 11 years to the attention of transplant clinic leaders. Photo by Molly Blake, UCHealth.

Interpreter makes life-saving connection

For Mario Flores, words matter. As an interpreter at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, he hears particular sounds, gentle inflections and accents in the words patients say, and then he interprets.

But perhaps more importantly, Flores listens.

On a recent day while he was working, a patient who speaks Spanish arrived and Mario was called to interpret. She was here for a third fistula procedure, often done for those on dialysis.

During the session, the patient said she had been on dialysis for more than a decade and was also on the transplant list. Flores carefully interpreted for the patient and then told her he would like to escort her to the transplant center. He had been an interpreter long enough to know that 11 years on dialysis was not normal.

“There are sometimes cultural and even communication barriers that get in the way of care,” said Flores. “These, plus COVID and perhaps some fear about the transplant, meant this patient was on dialysis for years longer than she should have been.”

Flores introduced the patient to Dr. Monica Grafals, a nephrologist with the UCHealth Transplant Center, and Breezy Balcazar, transplant center administrative support, and he shared some background about her case. He left her in the capable hands of the team and went about his day.

A month or so later, Flores heard a patient was asking for him. His patient – the one he had referred to the transplant center –-received a life-saving organ.

“I walked into her room and she had tears in her eyes,” said Flores. “In those moments, it’s so rewarding to do what I do, and work with this amazing team.”

Michael Clarkson, manager for language services, says Flores always goes the extra mile to make sure patients can access and participate in the care they need.

“He is receptive to different communication needs, and works with providers and patients alike so they can authentically connect with one another,” said Clarkson.

The connection Flores made between the patient and the transplant team allowed a patient to go off dialysis, get a new kidney and visit her mother in Mexico. Flores wasn’t even supposed to work the day he originally worked with the patient. It was, he said, “serendipitous.”

“It’s why I enjoy coming on campus to work with patients face-to-face,” said Flores. “I would have heard the words, but I may not have seen the frustration in her eyes.”

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About the author

Molly Blake is a communications specialist for UCHealth. She joined the team in 2019. Molly spent much of her journalism career freelance writing for various publications including The New York Times, NBC news, alumni magazines and more. She is the proud spouse of a United States Marine Corps veteran, and wrote extensively about their life in the military.