July 18, 2016

1,722 People Get $6.5 Million in Free Health Care in West Virginia

, news editor, Adventist Review, and , communication assistant, North American Division

Seventh-day Adventist volunteers provided more than $6.5 million in free medical services to about 1,700 patients over three days at the first small-town mega-clinic organized by the Your Best Pathway to Health organization in the United States.

The event in Beckley, West Virginia, attracted long lines of patients from across the state and even from the nation’s capital, Washington, located a four-hour drive away.

“It was so exciting to see,” said Victor Zill, the secretary-treasurer for the Adventist Church’s Mountain View Conference, which covers most of West Virginia, and a first-time volunteer at a Pathway to Health event.

“This is the first event like this I’d ever been to, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Zill told the Charleston Gazette-Mail newspaper. “There is a great need, and I was amazed to see the long lines of people who really needed health care.”

About 200 church members from the Mountain View Conference were among the 730 volunteers who provided medical, dental, vision, and other services to 1,722 patients from July 13 to 15, the Mountain View Conference said. The number of patients who received assistance easily topped the clinic’s goal of 1,500 people.

“One excited recipient shared, ‘I can feel God's love here,’” the Mountain View Conference said on its Facebook page, which provided regular updates about the event. “Isn't that what life is about? Sharing God's love.”

In all, volunteers performed 30 surgeries, gave 180 haircuts and more than 800 massages, saw more than 800 eye patients, and treated hundreds of dental patients, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported, citing Celeste Ryan Blyden, vice president for strategic communication and public relations for the church’s Columbia Union Conference, whose territory includes West Virginia.

New Type of Clinic

The clinic, held in a sprawling convention center, wrapped up on July 16 with three public health seminars on healthy living and overcoming addictions and an all-day training seminar on July 17 that taught volunteers how to organize similar events in their communities.

Pathway to Health, which is affiliated with Adventist supporting ministry ASI, earlier partnered with the Adventist Church to organize free clinics in five larger cities, including Los Angeles, San Antonio, and San Francisco. But it chose Beckley, population 17,600, because it “wanted to have a Small Town, U.S.A., experience” and encourage people around the country to replicate the event on a small scale, Pathway to Health president Lela Lewis told the Columbia Union Visitor.

To run the clinic, the organizers had to overcome several obstacles, including out-of-state medical credentialing issues.

Larry Boggess, president of the Mountain View Conference, expressed his gratitude to the volunteers, who came from across the United States as well as from Colombia, Mexico, and Poland.

“I cannot adequately express what it means to the Mountain View Conference to see so many volunteers come to West Virginia to help us minister to the people of Appalachia,” Boggess said, according to the Columbia Union Visitor. “The people here face many health challenges and economic issues, and it is awesome to think that our Seventh-day Adventist Church family would come together to help us minister to them with love and compassion.”

Meet the Volunteers

Among the volunteers was Olivia Lesko, a 14-year-old member of the Centerville church in Ohio, who volunteered in the clothing distribution area. Two of her customers were a 4-year-old girl and her mother. Lesko said the girl’s eyes got big when she spotted a pair of sparkly pink Barbie shoes on the floor.Olivia Lesko, 14, volunteers in the clothing distribution area. (Visitor)

“I heard her say, ‘They fit perfect Mommy! The only other shoes I have are my flip flops — now I have these and they gave me Minnie Mouse socks!’” Lesko said. “It just made me so happy to help this little girl.”

Volunteers and patients made sacrifices and overcome challenges to attend the clinic.

Helen Veeragaghavan, an Adventist student from India who has studied in the United States for about 18 months, had to choose between volunteering at Pathway to Health or going door-to-door as a literature evangelist to earn money for her school bills.

“I decided, with God’s help, that I would come to Pathway,” said Veeragaghavan, who volunteered at the massage station. “I know that my Lord will take care of me, although I know that my bill is high.”

The decision was not easy for Veeragaghavan.

“Money can come and go at any time,” she said. “The whole of heaven is holding the treasure. [But] from my childhood, I’ve had a longing to serve the people. Now I don’t want to miss any chance while I’m studying here.”

Monique Mitchell, an Adventist podiatrist from the Bahamas, took vacation time to volunteer at the clinic. As Mitchell prepared for travel to Beckley, her husband told her about the devastation caused by recent flooding that killed 23 people in West Virginia.

“I was amazed that Pathway to Health was already planned to come here when the disaster happened,” she said. “These people really need the services. So God is good.”

“It’s That They’re Christians”

Samir, 27, from the Beckley area, arrived at the clinic after several difficult weeks. She was hit by a car while on her bike, resulting in a broken collarbone and other injuries. Since her surgery two weeks earlier, Samir hadn’t been able to wash her hair.

She stopped by the clinic on July 14 to have her hair washed and styled. She couldn’t stop smiling afterward.

“God has spared my life many times,” she said. “I don’t know what He has planned for me, but I trust Him fully.”

Carla, from Piney View, West Virginia, was the second person through the door on the clinic’s first day. She received dental care after spending Tuesday night in line — and working 11 days straight in order to have a day off to attend the clinic.

Carla wasn’t the only one who needed dental services. Liliah and Kimberly, a mother and daughter from Beckley, heard about the clinic from a Facebook post shared by local WVVA television. Kimberly needed a few caps and fillings.

“Everyone is just so gentle, kind, and caring,” Kimberly said after receiving treatment. “We discussed it with each other all morning, and you know what the common denominator is here? It’s that they’re Christians. They’re volunteering. They’re following Christ’s example. It’s great to see that. It’s refreshing.”