DURHAM – Speaking through a translator, Froylan Castillo said there aren’t a lot of jobs out there in this economy, and there are “a lot of us” who don’t make enough to cover all the medical services they need.
Castillo said he’d gone recently to the Lincoln Community Health Center, a health care provider for the underserved in Durham, for other medical needs, but hadn’t seen an ophthalmologist yet.
So on Saturday, he went to a free health fair held at First Baptist Church downtown to find out about two “blots” obscuring his vision in each eye.
At the church on Cleveland Street, there were free blood pressure, blood sugar, and HIV screenings, as well as free care offered by a dietician, physical therapists, a chiropractor, dentists, as well as an ophthalmologist, said Dr. Ronald F. Halbrooks, a Duke Medicine internal medicine physician who volunteered at the fair on Saturday.
“First Baptist has been in the city over 150 years, and so we don’t just want to be a church that’s (just) a building there, we want to see how we can reach out to the surrounding community,” said Matthew Hodges, the church’s director of urban ministry.
The church has held the health fair for more than 12 years, Hodges said. Held twice a year, the event is staffed by many medical professionals who attend the church.
Halbrooks said the congregation made a “conscious choice” to stay in its downtown church, and with that choice, wanted to reach out to the surrounding community.
They picked up people in a van and a bus for the clinic, and distributed fliers to spread the word. They put up information at the public library, The Salvation Army, the Genesis Home, Housing for New Hope, Urban Ministries of Durham, Hodges said.
Dr. Jim Eaker was one of the dentists busily working inside a dental bus on reserve from the N.C. Baptist Men organization that was parked outside of the church.
Eaker said the volunteers started by praying before they started their morning. Their work that day mostly involved relieving pain by pulling teeth, he said.
“There are not many outlets for free dentistry,” Eaker said. “So part of it is just pure pain relief, and part of it is understanding that this life is not all there is.”
Dan Erb, dean of High Point University’s School of Health Sciences, was staffing a room with four UNC Chapel Hill physical therapy students who were offering tips on walking to encourage healthier lifestyles, as well as the proper way to walk and to stretch to improve their health.
“It’s something everyone can do,” Erb said of walking, which also can have preventative health effects.
One of the students, Angela Lauten, said she volunteered last year, and returned because it’s a chance to help a population that she said they don’t see every day.
“It’s a big draw for me because I’m a believer, I believe it’s part of my faith to serve others,” she said. “Apart from that, I would have done this anyway.”
Dr. Alan Carlson, a professor of ophthalmology and the chief of cornea and refractive surgery service at the Duke Eye Center, said he’s been volunteering at the fair for seven years.
On Saturday, he started his regular job at 7 a.m., seeing 17 patients in two hours, and then came in to volunteer at the clinic.
He said he sees the volunteer work as a service to the community, as a way to help people who may not otherwise have access to good care – and a way to catch sometimes sight-threatening diseases.
“Unfortunately, it’s very common,” he said of glaucoma, a sight-threatening disease that he said is “silent,” with vision loss happening very slowly.
At the health fair, Carlson said they’re able to test for patients who might have glaucoma, and they often find people with unrecognized or untreated cases.
“This is a way to give back to the community by reaching out and offering care to patients that don’t otherwise have the (access) to care,” he said.
Through a translator, Castillo said that he wanted to see the ophthalmologist because he had two blots or shadows in his vision, and wanted to get them checked out.
Carlson said he found an eye growth common in people who grow up in the South, and don’t wear sunglasses, and told Castillo that it’s important to wear sunglasses.
“It’s very important that he wear sunglasses outside because he’s a relatively young person, and that growth will spread across his eye,” he said to Castillo, through the translator, another volunteer, Carlos Siu, if he doesn’t wear sunglasses.