June 21, 2023 News

How a Letter from a “Stranger” Helped a Cohoes Woman

In March 2019, Debbie O’Keefe of Cohoes found herself in the middle of an unexpected health crisis: Stage 1 breast cancer. Twenty years earlier, Debbie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. However, because Debbie did not carry the BRCA gene, a mutation that puts patients at higher risk of developing breast cancer, she was surprised by the news.

“When it comes to my health, I prepare myself with research, so that I don’t make decisions based on fear. I want facts, second opinions, and a variety of options,” Debbie said. “What I didn’t prepare for was how to deal with medical insurance. I was as clueless as they come.”

That’s when Debbie received her first letter from Wendy Ference, a registered nurse and member of the CDPHP care management team. Wendy explained how she would help Debbie through her health care journey and could connect her to the resources she’d need to battle her cancer diagnosis. At the time, Debbie was skeptical about Wendy’s offer, so she opted not to respond.

CDPHP care manager, Wendy Ference (left), hugs CDPHP member, Debbie O’Keefe, after meeting in-person for the first time.

Fast forward to Fall 2023 when Debbie’s doctor told her she had unusually high levels of heavy metals in her blood. She was once again faced with an uncertain health care scare and not sure where to turn.

“I called my doctors, searched online, and even called the Department of Health. I was getting nowhere, getting frustrated, and spent many hours not getting any answers. No one knew how to help me.”

That’s when Debbie got another unexpected communication from Wendy from CDPHP, who once again offered to help.  

“This time, I recognized her name!” Debbie said. “I reached out to Wendy and discussed my current health concerns, especially how it related to cancer. After speaking with her, I finally realized that she wasn’t just someone who wanted to talk about health insurance; she was on my side and ready to help, giving me access to her extensive network and knowledge of the health care system.”

CDPHP care manager, Wendy Ference (left), and CDPHP member, Debbie O’Keefe (right), stand for photo after meeting in-person for the first time.

Debbie is currently four years cancer-free and is optimistic she will never have to deal with it again.

“Wendy has become one of my favorite CDPHP resources,” Debbie said. “I hope others don’t need her services, but if they do find themselves in a health situation and need support, someone they can trust to put you first, to listen to you, and to offer suggestions, you will indeed have a valuable advocate on your side.”

If you or a loved one needs help with a new diagnosis or existing health condition, the CDPHP Care Team is here to help. From nurses to social workers, dietitians and mental health experts, our team is here to help you on your journey to better health. Give us a call at 1-888-94-CDPHP. If you’re calling outside normal business hours, feel free to leave a message and we will call you back. Our crisis hotline is also available 24/7 at 1-888-320-9584. Simply call and press “1” to be connected.

Ali Skinner
About the Author

Ali Skinner is a communications professional with nearly 20 years of media, marketing, advertising, and public relations experience. She joined CDPHP in November 2011 and currently serves as Vice President, Communications and External Affairs for one of the top health plans in New York and the nation. In this role, Ali oversees all internal and external communications, public relations, and government relations for the plan’s 400,000 members and 1,200 employees. A self-described recovering journalist, Ali spent 10 years writing and delivering news for a number of television and radio stations in the Syracuse and Albany, NY markets. Today, she uses her journalism background to help patients and the public make sense of complex health care topics.

One Response to “How a Letter from a “Stranger” Helped a Cohoes Woman”

  1. Lisa

    Congratulations, Wendy!

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