"We're seeing the Invisible" Ram clinic comes to Gray to treat those who cannot afford health care.

Hannah Swayze • Updated Nov 4, 2017 at 12:09 AM

Cars began to fill the Appalachian Fairgrounds parking lot in Gray on Thursday night.

Some of the people parked there had already been there for hours. Some set up tents and some slept in their cars, but all of them were there for the same thing: medical care.

Remote Area Medical set up its mobile healthcare units at the fairgrounds to do what it’s known for: to provide health care for free.

RAM is a nongovernmental organization that does work around the world providing free and high quality medical care to those who don’t have access to or cannot afford healthcare. 

Jeff Eastman, the organization’s CEO, said the clinic is set to help more 1,000 patients from Friday through Sunday. On Friday, doctors, dentists and optometrists saw more than 300 patients, but expect around 900 on Saturday. 

The clinic is divided into three sections: dental, vision and medical.

In the dental area, a huge portion of the services RAM provides, patients can have teeth extracted and receive dental exams and cleanings. In the vision section, patients receive eye exams and a free pair of glasses that day. And in medical, patients have access to a variety of tests and screenings that range from flu shots to pap smears to cancer screenings.

One of those patients was April Castle, at the clinic Friday with her daughter Mikayla. Castle came for dental services.

Castle has found a job that allows her to work full-time taking care of her daughter, helping her with her health issues — including having had a grand mal seizure at age 14.

“I take care of my daughter full time. Prior to that I went through three jobs in one year because employers are not extremely compassionate when you put your kid before your job. And when she ran into some health issues, she came first.”

This is the second time she’s been to a RAM clinic, having learned about it less than a year ago. And despite having been to two clinics, she still hasn’t been able to get all of the work done that she needs, because the clinics only last one weekend.

“I wish I’d known about this before this year. But I didn’t even know this existed,” she said.

Dr. Joe Smiddy is a pulmonologist who has been volunteering with Remote Area Medical for 18 years. Smiddy says it’s a real blessing to be able to do this clinic, and hopes his volunteering encourages others in the medical field to do more work like the work they’re doing this weekend.

“When you see hundreds of people that are our people that live here are lined up because they have no one source for health care, it’s a moving experience to see them and know who they are,” Smiddy said.

“We’re seeing the invisible. These are people who are invisible to the various people who live in the Tri-Cities. These are people who are invisible to the average person, but we see them here at the RAM event and we know who they are, and there are hundreds of them and their needs are real.”

In addition to the medical services, Second Harvest Food Bank also held a food drive where anyone could take cans of food and fresh vegetables home with them, no questions asked.

For more information about RAM’s mobile medical clinics or to volunteer, visit ramusa.org. 

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