published Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Hundreds seek free medical care in Sewanee

Volunteer Alisha Duffy makes adjustments while checking Brooke Lewis' eyes during Remote Area Medical's clinic Saturday at Sewanee: The University of the South.
Volunteer Alisha Duffy makes adjustments while checking Brooke Lewis' eyes during Remote Area Medical's clinic Saturday at Sewanee: The University of the South.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

IF YOU GO

The free clinic will continue on Sunday through about 2 p.m., treating patients left over from Saturday and distributing about 200 new tickets. People who don't arrive several hours before doors open at 6 a.m. probably won't get a chance to be seen.

Locals will have another chance to visit RAM on Sept. 22 and 23 at Camp Joy in Hamilton County.

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Brenda Kessler arrived at Sewanee: The University of the South at 10:30 on Friday night to camp out for one of 400 tickets to receive free medical care from the Remote Area Medical Clinic. University officials told her that people weren't allowed to wait on campus until midnight, and when she returned at 12:04 a.m., 74 people had already gotten tickets ahead of her.

By the end of the day, Kessler had received a dental cleaning, tooth extraction and her first new pair of glasses in six years. It's been so long since she had new glasses that her prescription has changed.

"I don't like the idea that I can't pass a driving test [without my glasses]," she said.

Inside Sewanee's Fowler Center, rows of dentists stood by chairs on the indoor track and pulled teeth. Optometrists stationed in the halls by the pool asked patients to read eye charts, and general practitioners set up makeshift examination rooms with curtain dividers.

RAM founder Stan Brock was on site and said that most visitors seek out dental care, though he said nearly all should get a physical. Most of RAM's patients are between 29 and 64, the critical period after they age out of health care for minors and age into Medicare. It's been years or decades since many have been in a doctor's office or dentist's chair, he said, citing one 28-year-old woman who had all her teeth pulled on Saturday morning.

Though RAM has gone to foreign countries including Guyana, India and Haiti, Brock said that the group is turning its focus increasingly toward America, where there is still so much need for free treatment.

Joe Sanfilippo, a Nashville-based nurse practitioner who organized the RAM doctors, said many of the diagnoses the medical team makes are for diabetes and high blood pressure.

"A lot of it is preventable," he said, adding that the diseases are often a result of "smoking, not exercising, high-fat diets."

The team did everything from writing prescriptions to treat anxiety to taking pap smears, and RAM will contact area doctors on behalf of patients who need more serious treatment such as surgery.

Brock explained that Tennessee is a particularly welcoming state for RAM.

"Tennessee, since 1995, has led the way in the nation. ... They passed legislation in Nashville for the Volunteer Healthcare Service Act," he said of the law that allows doctors who are in good standing but not licensed in this state to volunteer their services. He pointed out dentists from Florida to New York who were among the 40 or so volunteer oral care providers.

Meanwhile, a team of technicians from as far away as Chicago shaped lenses for about 175 new sets of glasses that would be given out over the course of the day.

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