Your Best Pathway to Health, a three-day no-cost medical and dental clinic, was conducted April 8-10 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, where the 2015 General Conference session will be held in July.
Three Days That Changed a City
Giving away medical and dental care is one way to get a city’s attention.
By Diane Thurber and Susan Jones
Your Best Pathway to Health, a three-day no-cost medical and dental clinic, was conducted April 8-10 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, where the 2015 General Conference session will be held in July. Sponsored by Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI), in collaboration with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, and many other entities, more than $20 million in free health-related services were provided by more than 1,700 volunteers to more than 6,000 of those in the medically underserved population of the city.
Free on-site facilities included primary-care visits; women’s health services; consultation with specialists; STD screenings; pediatrics; immunizations; dental care, including root canals, crowns, filings, extractions, and dental cleanings. Pharmacy, eye care, physical therapy, X-ray, and laboratory services were also provided on-site. Even surgical procedures such as hysterectomies, gallbladder and tumor removal, and others were performed by prior arrangement for 360 people, both at the Alamodome and at the nearby Central Texas Medical Center, operated by the Adventist Health System. In addition to medical and dental care, volunteers also provided haircuts, chaplaincy services. Approximately 2,500 free sack lunches were distributed each day.
Some touching stories came out of the event.
One man came for medical services and mentioned that he was engaged to be married, but that he had no suit to be married in. Men’s Wearhouse had donated several hundred men’s suits, including one tuxedo. The tuxedo fit this man perfectly. He also had no connection with a pastor, and no church to be married in. But that connection was made as well.
Another man was devastated because his 15-year-old son had been shot and killed the day before. He was also upset because he didn’t have appropriate clothing for his son’s funeral. He too was outfitted with a suit, and received prayer and counseling services.
One woman came to the vision-care section and mentioned that she had experienced a sudden impairment in her vision just the day before. Her eyes were examined on one of the two reSamanthal cameras in the vision area, which showed that she had a reSamanthal detachment and bleeding in the back of her eye. She was immediately taken where she could get surgery on her eye and save her vision.
Someone who came through the medical line for an examination was discovered to have severe heart problems. An ambulance was called, and he was taken directly to the hospital.
Someone else had a heart attack in the Alamodome and received immediate medical care from the physicians there.
Hundreds had to be turned away. Some cried. One man begged to be seen after the cutoff for the day. A woman ahead of him in line, also waiting to be seen, heard his pleas and gave up her place in line so he could receive dental care.
One man, while talking with a chaplain, asked for prayer to reconcile with his brother. He shared that he had carried a knife with him into the Alamodome that day. He had been planning to leave there and stab his brother. One of the volunteers (perhaps someone in registration or hospitality, no one knows) learned that he had a knife and talked him into giving it to her, which he did reluctantly. After he relinquished the knife, he broke down in tears as the chaplain prayed for him.
A 14-year-old girl shared with a lifestyle counselor that she was struggling with depression. She had seen her father murder her mother. She was referred for further services to help her, in addition to receiving helpful tips and prayer.
All the people who received services during this event will receive follow-up care if they wish, based on results of lab work and diagnoses, and be referred to church- and community-run seminars such as Depression Recovery, CREATION Health, stop-smoking programs, Healthy Living cooking classes, diabetes-management programs, and others.
In 2016 an outreach such as this one is being planned for Detroit, and in 2017 for New York City. A smaller Your Best Pathway to Health event is being planned for this summer in Spokane, Washington.
Chester Lane* leaned on a camp chair as he shuffled along the triage line, hoping for vision services. His wife, Audra, who needed dental care for an aching tooth, soon joined him.
The Smiths rose early that morning so they could be near the front of the line for these health services. It had been three or four years since Chester’s vision had been checked, and his vision had deteriorated to the point that he needed new glasses.
The couple had recently moved from Alaska, seeking better medical care for Chester. They found the surgeon they needed for his neurological problem, which had remained undiagnosed for 20 years. However, because they live on disability and are without insurance, it was difficult to save for their medical expenses. Audra described how several times she saved enough money to fix her tooth, but the dentist would insist on a course of antibiotics first. Then she would have to save again for dental expenses and the antibiotics. It was a cycle she couldn’t seem to avoid.
As Audra entered the Alamodome, saw the scope of what the event offered, and began to understand how many lives would be improved by the free services offered in the three-day event, she thought of friends back “home.” “You need to bring this event to Alaska,” she said. She explained that many there live under the poverty level and can’t afford health care. As Audra sought help for herself, she was thinking back to the community she and Chester had left and her desire for their good was evident.
“This event renews my faith in mankind,” Audra said. “I was getting to the point of believing that no one really cares.”
Earlier in their life journey Audra and Chester lived in Nevada, Missouri. There Audra encountered a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and his wife. “She saved my life,” said Audra, explaining how the pastor’s wife had insisted she visit the hospital for the abdominal pain she was experiencing. “It was a burst appendix,” she stated. These memories of her encounter with this couple led her to say, “I told my husband there would be nice people here today.”
Later that morning Chester finished his vision screening. “I’m going to pick up my new glasses June 1,” he beamed.
Audra said that she had cut her husband’s hair the day before, and explained how she had also trimmed the ends of her own. “You know how it is when you trim your own hair—the ends are jagged,” she explained. She then told how she was invited to enjoy a free massage and complimentary haircut while waiting for dental services. “It was wonderful!” she sighed.
Renewed vigor was evident in the couple’s steps and the smiles on both their faces as they shared about the special treatment and nice people they had met. “I don’t mind waiting until June 1 for my new glasses; it was all worth it!” Chester exclaimed.
Samantha and David Martinez were watching KSAT in San Antonio on Tuesday afternoon, April 7, 2015, when they heard a news story about Your Best Pathway to Health, a three-day event at which free medical and dental services would be offered.
“As soon as we heard about this event on the news, we came right over,” Samantha said.
She and David arrived at the Alamodome with a blanket and pillow, prepared to spend the night outside. They joined others in the line forming for dental services, so they could receive services as soon as the doors opened at 7:00. But because the parking lot would close overnight, David could not risk having their car impounded. So he left Samantha, who waited patiently through the night.
David returned the next morning, but not alone. He brought his mother-in-law, who also sought dental care.
The Martinezes have waited years for dental care. They attempted to receive services at a smaller dental clinic, but were turned away. Neither Samantha nor David is currently employed. A work-related accident prevents David from driving a big rig, and Samantha cares for her aging mother. Disability checks help the couple make ends meet, but they have no other means to cover dental treatments.
Visible relief and broadening smiles were on the Martinezes’ weary faces as they stood in the triage line waiting to be seen by nurses who would review their health assessments and take their blood pressure. Soon they were on the way to the medical and dental waiting areas.
“This is awesome,” David said. “God is going to bless all these people for what they are doing.”
“I see this as a divine appointment,” Samantha exclaimed.
When David’s number was called for dental triage, he answered a few questions and moved into another waiting area. While there, he made friends with individuals also waiting for dental care. While in this waiting area he met Russ Laughlin, a pastor and vice president for spiritual development at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.
A person sitting near David asked, “Which church is doing all this?”
Laughlin responded, “Seventh-day Adventist.”
“I hear you believe in the second coming of Jesus,” stated David. He had met a chaplain in line who had answered questions, shared his business card, and invited David to his church.
Laughlin said, “Yes, it’s all in our name.” Then he proceeded to explain who Seventh-day Adventists are, and how the church’s name shares our belief in the return of Jesus. Other questions followed.
“Would you pray for me?” one woman asked, to which Laughlin gladly consented.
“Would you touch me, hold my hand?” she pressed. Again Laughlin complied, reaching out to take David’s hand also.
Laughlin’s prayer brought tears to the woman’s eyes. In addition to the dental relief she and the Martinezes received, they also experienced the healing touch of Jesus through kind volunteers like Laughlin.
Sent From God
Sonja Rojas sat at a table waiting to be seen by a dentist. “I’m waiting for my wife,” she said.
Jill Rojas had arrived at the Alamodome the previous day at 4:00 p.m. to join the line forming for dental services. She waited through the night so she could talk to a dentist and, she hoped, get a desperately needed crown.
The next morning Sonja joined Jill. She half-expected to receive a call during the night with a request to come pick Jill up. It had been just about two months since Jill had fallen from the second floor of their two-story home and broke her L1 and L2 vertebrae. She was in the hospital for more than a month, then moved to rehabilitation.
Jill, a nurse, had not worked since her own injury on February 15, 2015. Then Sonja had to quit her job to take care of Jill. She explained that Jill should have remained in rehabilitation longer, but without insurance, and because of their inability to pay $160 per day to receive physical therapy and nursing services, she was sent home.
Knowing Jill still suffers with constant pain from the accident caused Sonja to worry about how she had endured the wait outside the Alamodome. “She’s a strong woman,” Sonja said. “She won’t let people know she’s suffering and won’t let anything stop her.” Jill endured the long wait, and together they proceeded inside.
Sonja received vision screening. The attending eye doctor knew Sonja also wanted a dental cleaning. She smiled widely and reported, “The doctor said, ‘I like you. I like you a lot. I’m going to take you over to see if you can see the dentist, too.’ ” He was successful, and Sonja’s bright smile was the first thing Jill noticed when she returned from receiving her own dental care.
“It was worth it!” Jill said. “I would have had to spend $1,300; and I got this crown for free.”
“The Lord sees everything. I know there’s a reason for everything. . . . When you feel you’re down and out, then something happens. When you least expect it, He answers your prayers,” Sonja stated.
“This,” described Sonja, sweeping her arms out wide to take in the scene in the Alamodome before her, “is angels sent from God. What all you people are doing. You’re here for us. It’s awesome! It’s passion.”
Photos of the event are on Twitter: #pathwaytohealth, and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/yourbestpathway
Diane Thurber is associate director of communication and women’s ministries director for the Lake Union Conference.
Susan Jones is a member of the Arbuckle View Adventist Church in Oklahoma.