April 15, 2015

Surprise Stories Emerge From Free Clinic in San Antonio

Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET

Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders on Tuesday shared behind-the-scenes stories from the free clinic that provided free treatment to thousands of people in San Antonio last week, including an overworked X-ray machine, an unexpected doctor’s referral, and a physician who prayed with a patient for the first time.

A total of 6,192 people received  dental and medical treatment worth $20,124,000— double the initial estimate of $10 million — from some 1,700 volunteers during the three-day event in the Alamodome stadium, main organizer Your Best Pathway to Health said.

Organizers had expected most of the patients to come from the local community, said Duane McKey, vice president for evangelism and ministerial director at the Adventist Church’s Southwestern Union, a co-sponsor of the clinic. 

Instead, he said, many people traveled a considerable distance to receive free root canals, crowns, pap smears, massage therapy, and surgery after local television stations and newspapers gave prominent coverage to the event.

“We thought the people would come from around the Alamodome, but they came from all around,” McKey told top church leaders at the Spring Council, an annual church business meeting. “Some came from as far away as Houston and Dallas.”

Houston is located three hours by car east of San Antonio, while Dallas is a four-hour, 40-minute drive to the north.

McKey said 12 percent of patients were homeless.

The event, which was open two full days on April 8 and 9 and a half day on April 10, was the brainchild of Your Best Pathway to Health, a service of Adventist-Laymen’s Services & Industries, or ASI, in partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventist Health System, Loma Linda University Health, and other entities.

McKey said an X-ray machine surprised volunteers in the stadium.

An X-ray machine typically makes 45 X-rays in two and a half days, but the machine donated by GE spat out a total of 338 X-rays during the free clinic, he said.

“The machine got so hot that it stopped working,” he said. “But the technician said, ‘I can fix it,’ and he cranked up the fan and got it working again.”

The technician was also provided by GE, one of several healthcare companies that contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment after hearing about the plan to treat thousands of people.

McKey said one patient who underwent a $25,000 operation at a nearby Adventist hospital told how she had broken the news about her plans to receive the free surgery to her doctor. The doctor had expressed disbelief that anyone would provide her with such an expensive operation at no cost, so she had presented him with a flyer about the event.

Some time later, the doctor found himself speaking with another patient who urgently required an operation but didn’t have the insurance to cover the bill.

“How am I going to come up with the $25,000?” the patient asked.

The doctor handed her the flyer for the free clinic.

She also underwent surgery.

Daniel R. Jackson, president of the North American Division, which co-sponsored the event, said he worked as an usher at the event and had been impressed to hear many volunteers declare, “This is the best thing that I have ever done in my life.”

One Adventist physician even told Jackson that this was the first time in his years of work that he had prayed with a patient. The doctor was overcome with emotion that he had been able to share such a special moment with the patient, Jackson said.

Evangelist Mark Finley, who spent hours praying with patients, joined Jackson and McKey at the front of the auditorium at the Adventist Church’s headquarters to share a montage of local television news reports about the free clinic and hold up a copy of the San Antonio Express-News newspaper, which printed a related story on its front page.

He reminded the audience that the event had aimed to introduce San Antonio residents to the Seventh-day Adventist Church before thousands of Adventist believers arrived in July for the General Conference session, a major meeting of the world church held every five years.

“The major news in that city was, ‘Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventists helping people,’” Finley said. “When we go for the General Conference session in that city, people will know who Seventh-day Adventists are.”

Read related story with video: “6,192 Treated at Free Adventist Clinic in San Antonio”