'1 life is too many:' Milwaukee doctor breaks COVID language barrier

In a year where the world seems to have stopped amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Jorge Ramallo leans on the advice he gives his patients.  

“I think movement is medicine,” Dr. Ramallo told FOX6 News.

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

As he adjusts to new forms of exercising outdoors, he is also adjusting to new platforms for treating patients during a pandemic -- a combination of virtual and in-person visits. He works primarily out of the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center on Milwaukee’s south side.

“My patient population, I believe, is over 90% Latinx,” he explained. “I have a lot of immigrants that arrive from other countries.”

Research shows a majority of the Hispanic and Latino workforce is in essential fields, making them among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Witnessing the death toll from the pandemic has been devastating.

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

 “One life is one too many, in my opinion,” said Dr. Ramallo. “They're grandfathers, aunts, uncles and brothers to people. They are not just a statistic.”

Officials with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center quickly realized there was not enough information on COVID-19 in Spanish.

Dr. Ramallo is part of the center's Spanish Facebook Live series called "Pregunte al doctor," or "Ask the Doctor." It's their way of cutting through any misinformation online.  

Dr. Ramallo’s supervisor, Dr. Emilia Arana, described his passion for public health.

“Part of what we do is making this community better, and that's part of what he loves to do,” she said. “We're happy to have him with us. He has shown leadership in community health.”

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

Dr. Ramallo knows all too well what some of his non-English speaking patients might be going through.

 "I was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, South America, and my parents decided we should move to the United States -- not speaking any English, so as you can imagine, that can be very challenging.” 

One particular day defined his career path -- a day language did not feel like a barrier. 

“We went to a free clinic, much like Sixteenth Street, and there, we found clinicians that were able to speak our language," he said. "The people were so kind and welcoming."

Dr. Jorge Ramallo and Dr. Isreal Labao

Dr. Isreal Labao and Dr. Jorge Ramallo

A passion for health and science eventually took him to Yale School of Medicine, where he met his classmate and future husband, Dr. Isreal Labao.

 “I admire the journey that Jorge had,” Dr. Labao said. “He keeps his Latin heritage close to his heart.”

That heritage has Dr. Ramallo determined to help bridge the language gap. For now, he plans to keep working toward his goal of helping others during the most challenging of times. 

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

Dr. Jorge Ramallo

"I feel if they have 'confianza,' which means ‘trust,' trust in your doctor -- that changes everything,” he explained.