‘Where do I belong?’ A young doctor who found his way now helps others seeking answers

Karina Bland
| Arizona Republic

Nathan Delafield woke up at the homeless shelter, not in his bed, where he’d fallen asleep, but in another family’s room.

His mom, a drug-addict with mental health issues, had carried him there as he’d slept.

The 8-year-old shivered as he looked for her.

Nathan had lived in places like this, and on the street. He had attended a half dozen schools already. Sometimes he didn’t go at all. His dad was in prison.

Now his mom was gone.

A child welfare worker took Nathan to his uncle and aunt, Kate and Randy Delafield. It was supposed to be temporary, but Nathan would grow up there, a ward of the state until he was 21.

He had marveled at their modest house. He’d never lived in one before.

His uncle was a laborer. His aunt managed a child care center.

They turned to the nonprofit Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation to help pay for his saxophone, football fees and camp. His aunt volunteered for the agency.

Nathan called his aunt and uncle “Mom” and “Dad.” At school, kids would taunt him, “Those aren’t your parents.” Nathan was biracial, his mother white, his father Black. His aunt and uncle were white.

Nathan wondered, “Who am I? Where do I belong?”

His aunt contacted his father’s large family, who bought Nathan church clothes and took him to Sunday School and family gatherings. They cheered at his football games.

In seventh-grade at Montebello School, his teacher, Melody Milgrim, took him aside and told him he was smart.

“You can and should achieve so much more than you are,” she told him. She challenged him to do better. She would help him.

Nathan got straight As that year and was valedictorian at eighth-grade graduation.

He attended Central High and earned a scholarship to Arizona State University, where he got a degree in kinesiology. His aunt enrolled with him, earning a degree in social work.

Nathan knew then his rough start hadn’t defined him.

That was something he had to do for himself.

When Nathan was in college, and his aunt, Connie Robinson, learned he was interested in medicine, she introduced him to Marion Kelly, director of community affairs at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.

Kelly mentored Nathan and, once Nathan was in medical school, hosted receptions, asking guests to help with tuition.

At one reception, Nathan met Jessica, who attended with her parents. She had just graduated with an education degree.

“It really was love at first sight,” Nathan said. They were engaged eight months later and married in 2014.

Nathan did his residency at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, so they could be near family, and a year ago went to work for Valleywise Health Medical Center.

He’s one of three internists at a new clinic at 35th at Southern avenues, the area where he grew up.

With his credentials, Nathan could have worked anywhere. He feels a responsibility, knowing that health outcomes often are worst for minority patients. They deserve quality care.

His patients often look like him. They tell him, “I think you will do right by me.”

The residents and attending physicians Nathan teaches can learn that from him, too, even if they don’t look like him. They can build that trust.

Nathan wants to mentor and offer opportunities others gave him. He’s been on the board of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation for five years.

He’s at the clinic four days a week, and works two days a week at Mayo Clinic. He and his wife have two children.

“Even though the hours are long, the work difficult, there is nothing else I would rather be doing,” Nathan, now 31, said.

If he learns a patient lives at a shelter or just aged out of foster care, he tells his story.

“If I feel it will help to know where I’m coming from, I’ll share that,” Nathan said.

He doesn’t wonder anymore about his identity.

This is who he is and where he belongs.

Reach Karina Bland at karina.bland@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KarinaBland.

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