There are hundreds of people celebrating this Thanksgiving with newfound health and vigor after finding treatment at the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps' giant clinic this past weekend.
The stories of thanks for all manner of health care began emerging almost immediately after physicians, optometrists, dentists and other health care providers performed a variety of services otherwise out of reach for the underinsured and uninsured residents of the region and even beyond.
And RAM promises to return next year, too, blessing the community once again -- this time with a clinic spread out over three days instead of two, and once again at Manatee Technical College. The dates are already set for anyone marking a calendar: Nov. 11-13, a week earlier in order not to collide with the school district's holiday break. Many health care providers left on vacation and could not serve. But that date conflict has been rectified.
Many if not most of the 740 volunteers came away with their own stories of exhilaration at both providing the care and witnessing the results -- hundreds of appreciative people.
As the Herald's Jessica De Leon reported while covering Sunday's final day, one sixth-grade boy couldn't contain his enthusiasm for his new eyeglasses and showed them off at various clinic booths. One volunteer recounted the boy's somewhat unsettling tale: He hadn't been able to read since third grade.
That illustrates the depth of Manatee County's health-care crisis. We're failing children in ways that can have lifetime ramifications. So many others in our community struggle with medical conditions that are left untreated.
Dr. Richard Conard, the event chairman of Florida RAM, heard about that boy's story and told De Leon: "That to me is a message that we've got to do something about. That is not an acceptable statistic in a county that's such caring since we got here," speaking about RAM.
Indeed, this community must work harder to come up with an indigent health care strategy. Manatee County is in the middle of selecting a consultant that will design a program. But meanwhile, Manatee Memorial and Blake hospitals as well as health care providers are serving the indigent population without a contract with the country, an undesirable precedent that should be solved soon.
A win-win for everyone
The community -- and let's not forget the many health-care providers from out of state who graced us with their presence and skills -- showed its heart over the weekend. RAM organizers estimated the 1,457 adults and 161 children received almost $1 million in free health, dental and vision services, a remarkable tribute to all the people involved.
Individual numbers are more illuminating: 1,054 dental procedures, 467 pairs of eyeglasses made on the spot and handed out; 510 general medical exams and 150 mammograms were performed. And 500 people attended a nonsmoking class, hopefully with promising lifestyle changes in the works.
A 62-year-old woman told De Leon through a numb mouth that she just had her cavities filled and teeth cleaned. "It had been so painful," she said. Nobody should suffer ongoing pain like that.
Dr. J. Scott Maloney, a Palmetto dentist, told the Herald's Richard Dymond, the paper's lead writer on the extensive coverage of this unprecedented event, that the 36 patients he served left an indelible mark on him.
"Teeth with abscesses, broken-off teeth, people living with pain until they could get help somewhere," he said Monday. "To a person, they all shook my hand when I was done with them and thanked me for my volunteer service."
MTC Director Doug Wagner and many students served as volunteers on the sidelines, earning a lifetime experience. One such incident occurred out in the parking lot where Wagner was helping a woman with a crying baby. Then the mother started crying, despite Wagner trying to calm her.
"No," the woman told Wagner. "I'm just so happy. I have been in pain for three years." The clinic's free dental care took care of that.
A happy Thanksgiving indeed, for the patients whose wellbeing improved immensely and for the volunteers whose inspirational service brought personal rewards.
And thanks to RAM and its founder, Stan Brock, for gracing our community.