“When I know of other people struggling, I let them know about PRC.”

Sonia was a healthy mother of five when one day a piece of candy got stuck in her throat and changed her life forever. The cuts she incurred prompted a visit to a specialist that was inconclusive. However, when Sonia couldn’t eat and began dramatically losing weight, she advocated for an MRI that showed she had an aneurism, a bulge, like a bubble, caused by a weak spot on a blood vessel wall in her brain. It was unrelated to the throat lacerations but would have gone undetected and untreated if not for that fateful piece of candy.

This accidental finding after a year and a half of physical suffering led to brain surgery that ultimately saved Sonia’s life. Along the way, Sonia has experienced debilitating pain in her digestive tract, swollen nerves, even temporary blindness, all traced to the condition in her brain, making it impossible for her to work. As a single mother, Sonia faced a lot of financial pressure and stress, which exacerbated her pain. “I felt like I was in a hole, stuck financially and health-wise, with no way out. I felt like I was going to die.” Sonia needed help. That’s when she was referred to PRC.

Sonia sought the help of PRC’s Legal Services team to help her apply for public disability benefits, known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Sonia’s legal advocate helped her to understand the application process. Sonia felt that things were going to be okay. Still, Sonia was initially denied based on her written application due to the nature of her unusual disability. When Sonia finally got her day in court and was able to be seen by a judge in person, the judge was surprised Sonia was able to physically be present in court given the severity of her condition. Finally, Sonia felt like she was in the right place at the right time with the right people. Her application was approved.

Sonia still experiences severe pain but the social security assistance has helped tremendously. She explains, “When I secured social security, there was such relief that even though I was still in pain, the bills were going to get paid. I started feeling better. It’s made me feel better in every way. I don’t have all that stress, which has allowed me to focus on my health.” Sonia has learned so much since then about how to adapt to her condition, how to mitigate stress, and how to use different therapies to manage her pain. She’s finally able to concentrate on trying to get better.

Sonia recently started a part-time job two days a week doing payroll. She wants to do more but knows her body’s limits. She can’t lift things and has to take frequent breaks but working has also helped her feel better in that she’s starting to live her life again and take steps toward being the independent woman she once was.

Thanks to PRC’s assistance securing social security, Sonia has been able to move out on her own with her daughter. She’s been able to work toward her goals, in the short term continuing to get better physically, and in the long term go back to school to become a nurse practitioner or a lawyer, clearly influenced by her personal health and legal experiences. She still has to be careful about the level of stress in her life but she’s been able to recuperate both physically and emotionally little by little.

Sonia is one of thousands who annually take advantage of PRC’s Legal Advocacy program to gain access to income and healthcare necessary for stable housing and improved health outcomes. This program was the first service provided by PRC, formed in 1987 as AIDS Benefits Counselors in direct response to the AIDS epidemic to help those affected by HIV to navigate their way through a purposely cumbersome process to get the disability benefits they deserved. The program has grown tremendously over the years but maintains its commitment to providing legal services, using a harm reduction model, to the most vulnerable populations in the community, including homeless, non-English speaking, active drug-using, and other marginalized individuals.

Sonia refers others to PRC constantly and sees her role as a bridge between others and PRC. “When I first came to PRC, I was really struggling, health-wise and financially. When I know of other people struggling, I let them know about PRC.”

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