With Thanksgiving just past, last weekend's free Remote Area Medical clinic at Manatee Technical College has given us all a lot to be thankful for. Each of us who took part came away with powerful impressions that will occupy our thoughts this Thanksgiving weekend and for many years to come.
For me, it was the sixth-grader who was so proud of his new eyeglasses that he showed them to everybody he could find. A volunteer noticed the thickness of the new lenses and asked the boy when he had gotten his last pair. "I haven't been able to read since I was in the third grade," he said.
It breaks my heart that this little boy has missed out on three critical years of his education, just because his family couldn't afford to buy him the glasses he needs.
The Herald's Janelle O'Dea spent Friday evening interviewing patients who had camped out at the Manatee Technical College parking lot -- several of them a full day ahead of time -- just to be sure they got care.
In a compelling piece of reporting, O'Dea recounted the story of Courtney Foster, a 30-year-old single mother who had driven all the way from Timpson, Texas -- more than 1,000 miles away -- to relieve the agonizing pain from untreated dental problems.
She had suffered from tooth and jaw pain and migraine headaches, all due to multiple untreated mouth infections that began when she broke several teeth in an automobile accident. The cost for care, she said, is "like a car in your mouth."
Unemployed, she qualifies for Texas Medicaid, but it does not cover the services she needs.
"They told me the only way to get it done is if the infection spread to my heart," she said.
Everywhere you turned at MTC last weekend, you encountered emotionally charged stories that made you appreciate all you have -- and determined to redouble our efforts for those who are not so fortunate.
This was an extraordinary event, one that exceeded everyone's expectations. Together, we were able to render 3,259 separate health procedures to 1,618 patients. The two-day statistics are stunning: 1,054 dental procedures, 501 medical examinations, 467 pairs of prescription eyeglasses, 362 flu shots, 161 pediatric medical exams, 84 pap smears and vouchers for 150 mammograms. We also gave out 10,360 bottles of water, served 3,700 meals and the Salvation Army provided 2,500 hot dog bag lunches.
We owe a Niagara of thanks to all those who made it possible, but words fail when it comes to the volunteers. More than 740 doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists, optometrists, nurses, nurse practitioners, technicians, hygienists, physicians' assistants and support personnel manned the clinic itself, together with another 300 who volunteered for the sponsors' booths, giving out books to children, conducting health education, serving food and conducting a smoking cessation program for 500 people.
The volunteer army also included people who helped set up and remove the equipment, assisted with parking, processed the patients, assisted with triage and did a hundred other things.
There were 65 health professionals who did yeoman's work assembling the volunteers and planning the logistics that made it such a successful event.
I want to personally thank Manatee Technical College, its director, Doug Wagner, and the entire faculty, staff and student body of the college. From the very start, MTC stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us, supportive and accommodating at every turn.
The scores of community groups, local businesses and corporations that joined forces to help are too numerous to mention in this space; suffice to say, their active engagement proves just how caring this community really is.
We also owe a debt of gratitude to Remote Area Medical, America's largest charitable organization whose mission is to bring free medical clinics to communities like ours.
I have lived here in Bradenton for 48 years, and have never been prouder of this community. At some point, the event seemed to take on a life of its own, propelled by an extraordinary outpouring of generosity and kindness on a grand scale, and we are all better for having been a part of it.
Happy holidays, Manatee County, and thank you again! We all have a lot to be grateful for.
Richard Conard, M.D., is a Bradenton retired family physician and chairman of the Remote Area Medical free clinic in Bradenton.