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Why Patient Success: One Family’s Multilingual Journey

Why Patient Success is a series from Luma staff about their experiences as patients and caregivers navigating the healthcare system. 

For Sona Desai, healthcare is intertwined with the story of her family and community.

Her family immigrated to the United States from Gujarat, India in the mid-1980’s, pursuing a new adventure. “My dad was a mechanical engineer and we moved around often, which can be exciting when you’re a kid,” remembered Sona. 

Every new city introduced Sona and her family to a welcoming community of other first-generation South Asian immigrants. “No matter where we went, we knew we would have a community we could trust,” said Sona. 

This trust was especially important in finding healthcare providers in their new locations. Sona’s parents, Shailesh and Smita, relied on word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals from their friends and neighbors. 

Sometimes, this grassroots referral system wasn’t able to provide more specialized recommendations, leaving family members vulnerable to the system at large. 

Sona’s grandma lived with her family for several years and was not a fluent English speaker. Sona remembers her parents attending all her grandmother’s appointments to interpret and navigate the care she needed. 

“There are several different words for “pain” in Gujarati –  at times, communication can be lost in translation on either side. This left my grandma maybe facing a poor diagnosis and missing the care that may have really helped her,” said Sona.

As adults, Sona and her two sisters are now pursuing careers in healthcare, motivated to make an impact in the lives of others. In her work as a Senior Customer Success Manager at Luma, Sona is passionate about helping organizations working toward equity and better access.

One important element of access is multilingual support. “I’ve seen how difficult it can be to navigate healthcare in a new language,” said Sona, “and it’s so important to be able to meet people right where they’re at.”

“I work alongside federally qualified health centers and am inspired by their commitment to their communities. Every day, I’m reminded that the patients we are helping could have been my grandma,” said Sona.