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Her sister has diabetes. Her father has cancer. She wants to be the change that could have helped them.

Aneri Pattani, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA -- Shelley Henderson was 12 the first time she felt as if she couldn't breathe.

She was terrified, sure she was dying.

But her parents recognized the symptoms. Their other daughter had dealt with asthma attacks before.

They gave Henderson her sister's inhaler and waited. They were concerned, but knew that taking her to an emergency room would come with a big bill.

So they waited. Until her condition got so bad that they had no choice.

"It's crazy that we're surrounded by large health care systems but to feel like there's no choice but wait to go to the ER," said Henderson, now a 30-year-old doctor living in West Philadelphia.

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Yet that's reality for many in Philly, especially in minority communities. Despite being surrounded by world-renowned hospitals and research centers, people often lack access to care, and their health outcomes show it.

City data show that 18% of Hispanics and 14% of black people have forgone care due to cost, compared with 11% of whites.

Even those who can afford care can't always find a doctor. One study found that Philadelphia neighborhoods with a majority of black residents are 28 times more likely to have a shortage of primary-care doctors, regardless of residents' income or insurance status.

Henderson is setting out to change that.

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