December 1, 2015
The blessings I have experienced at Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic are too numerous to count.
Recently, I was working in the medical hallway among a number of patients, but one woman stood out. She was in tears. I know that look—the panic of not being able to regain your composure and desperately wanting it back. My stomach sank. As tears rushed down her cheeks, our nurse weighed her and the woman apologized again for not keeping it together. I didn’t leave my seat, and I had no idea how to help.
Help here, at Mountain Hope, is often angelic, and yesterday it arrived in the person of Jackie Burk, a volunteer nurse. I listened as she knelt beside the woman “Honey,” she said, “It’s OK to cry here. You’re among friends.” It was that simple, and it was true. At Mountain Hope, you’re always among friends.
I am so in awe of generosity of those who volunteer here and support this place, and I am more grateful than ever for the good folks in this community who believe in giving their neighbors a hand up—people like Jackie. This is a safe place, a healing place, and it’s the legacy of hundreds who have worked to make it what it is. It started with Dr. Alyene Reese, nearly 17 years ago, who led the charge with faith and hard work.
I love Tuesdays and Thursdays because of Dr. Robert Valosik, a wonderful, retired doc who volunteers then. Dr. Bob has the same effect on most people as sunshine. If you meet him, you’ll understand.
Dr. Bob told me about Neil Lee, a local pastor, not too long ago. He said that when he began treating Neil, the man couldn’t walk through his church. He was so weak; there were times he had to crawl.
Neil Lee, it turns out, is an inspiration.
I sat down with Neil at his church in Seymour as he told me, “Five years ago, I woke up and wondered if I’d had a stroke.” It wasn’t a stroke. It also seems that what began as difficulty focusing on beloved crossword puzzles wasn’t the need for glasses he had long suspected. The diagnosis was much, much worse.
Neil made an appointment at Mountain Hope. “In walked this little man with a big smile,” Neil told me. Within a moment, Dr. Bob Valosik had correctly diagnosed the very rare Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes loss of muscle function as chemical receptors in the body are blocked. It can go undiagnosed for years, and begins with difficulty keeping eyelids open, eventually affecting all muscles, making even eating hard. Few doctors know it on sight as Dr. Bob did. His diagnosis was life-saving.
For years, Neil was treated by Dr. Bob. There were bouts so bad that Neil was hospitalized multiple times. He was eventually referred to a neurologist who agreed to treat him for only $5 per month. Still, Neil was dealing with muscles that refused to work, with trials of medications that led to severe dehydration, and steroids that led to massive weight gain. Through it all, for five years, Dr. Bob saw Neil as his primary care doctor, and called between visits to check in. Neil Lee will tell you that it’s true– at Mountain Hope, you are among friends.
Though he fought the idea of disability benefits years, eventually Neil applied; benefits were approved. He cried when he heard that because Mountain Hope is a Clinic for the uninsured, and he now had insurance, Dr. Bob—whom he’d grown to love — could no longer treat him. “I think Dr. Bob cried, too,” he said.
Neil’s story is one of many. This year, we have surpassed 20,000 patients of record. The need for quality medical and dental care for the uninsured is more imperative than ever. With premiums for ACA insurance on the rise, we expect that many more will seek our help in 2016. Far too many simply cannot pay the ACA premiums. Folks are also reeling from cuts to working hours because employers can’t afford to insure full-time employees.
Our patients pay what they can, but there is a $65 deficit between the average $30 that patients pay and the cost of treatment. That leaves lots of ground to cover, and we still turn away hundreds of people every month—people like Neil, people who need us. We have had to say, “I’m sorry, but we’re full,” thousands of times already in 2015.
I’m glad to report Neil Lee is pastoring his church on his feet these days. The right meds and good providers make it possible to live a productive life that he loves. Dr. Bob still speaks to him by phone regularly. Neil is no longer a patient, but he’s still among friends and will always be a part of the Mountain Hope family.
This season, remember that health is a gift. We count you as part of the Mountain Hope family, too, and I am grateful for the lives you continue to change—and yes, save– with your support. During horribly difficult times, you are the reason that our patients know they are among friends. If you can help us again to provide quality care for our neighbors, I want to thank you for the difference you’re making in Sevier County. You are supporting the very significant efforts of folks like Jackie Burk and Dr. Bob Valosik. If you cannot donate now, please remember our patients, their families, our staff, and volunteers in your prayers during this holiday.
May you be blessed for your faithfulness,
Ashley Justice Mary Vance
Director of Fund Development Executive Director
Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic