“My pharmacist saved my life.”

Mike Metcalfe’s pharmacist, Dr. Steven Chen, saved his life.

Metcalfe recently related the story of Chen’s impact on his life in front of a rapt audience at the USC School of Pharmacy’s Annual Legislative Day. The event brought together nearly 200 participants including students, industry leaders to expand the profession’s scope of practice following the 2013 passage of California Senate Bill 493, which granted pharmacists healthcare provider status.

“Dr. Chen listened to me and I especially listened to him,” he told the audience. “I used to weigh 301 pounds. I followed Dr. Chen’s advice, grew an organic garden, and now my waist is so skinny I can Hula-Hoop through a Cheerio! I no longer live to eat; I eat to live. And that’s thanks to my pharmacist, Dr. Steven Chen.”

Many people had tried to help Metcalfe along the way, but Chen came along at the right time and took the right approach. Chen, associate dean for clinical affairs, met Metcalfe at the Center for Community Health on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Metcalfe was down on his luck, his diabetes was out of control and he was obese. Doctors had grown frustrated with his attitude and inaction.

Chen didn’t see a lost cause — he saw an opportunity. With a caring but straightforward approach, he began teaching Metcalfe simple, achievable changes, like keeping closer track of his food intake and drinking water instead of soda.

He taught me how to eat, taught me about carbs and how to count them. I kept a chart with all that I ate and my blood sugar numbers. I did it religiously. Dr. Chen was impressed.

Mike Metcalfe

Next, Chen helped Metcalfe learn to be more consistent with his insulin injections, telling him plainly that it was a matter of life and death. “I didn’t like it,” said Metcalfe. “I’m scared of needles. It hurt. But he said if I didn’t take this, I’d die.”

Mike Metcalfe and Steven Chen
Metcalfe credits Steven Chen with restoring his health and reducing his weight from over 300 pounds.

Finally, Chen encouraged Metcalfe to find mild exercises that he could learn to enjoy. “I started gardening because he told me I needed to sweat,” Metcalfe said.

Chen’s persistence and encouragement worked. Today, Metcalfe is a changed man: 100 pounds lighter, employed as caretaker of a large church and property manager for the apartment complex where he lives. He also visits Chen’s class at the School of Pharmacy, sharing a patient perspective with the future pharmacists.

“Mike showed me that the sky’s the limit in terms of what patients are capable of doing,” says Chen. No matter how “difficult” a patient is, he adds, you can always find the right treatment. “You just need to listen.”