By Stephen Igo Kingsport Times News
WISE — The 19th annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition got rolling Friday in its typical bust the fairgrounds’ gates open at the break of dawn fashion, and its former partner — the Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Missions of Mercy (M.O.M.) — was doing the same at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise Convocation Center, together providing all comers free medical, vision and/or dental care.
M.O.M.’s move to the UVa-Wise Convocation Center this year was to take advantage of the indoor controlled climate to provide services in a more comfortable environment. RAM’s 19th event at the fairgrounds seemed much less frantic than previous years but still bustled with hundreds of volunteers providing free medical, vision and a lower level of dental services than usual, with M.O.M. taking most of the dental load at its separate site.
Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Gardner-Tyson said more volunteer dental teams, independent of M.O.M., would be at the fairgrounds on Saturday but the efforts of both groups remain inextricably intertwined. Shuttle buses enabled patients wanting services at both sites to travel to and fro, showing just one of the ways the teamwork effort between RAM and M.O.M. yet thrives.
“It’s been going really good. We reached capacity with our vision and dental early on, and that just goes to show the need that is out there,” Gardner-Tyson said of Friday’s start to the 19th Wise County RAM, long the largest such event in the nation. “And our medical is the most robust it has ever been with the highest (patient) numbers ever. We believe that’s a result of all the diagnostic components we have built into RAM over the years.”
When it came down to providing free dental, medical and vision health care services to those in need, she added, Team RAM/M.O.M. continues to show the way teamwork works even at separate locations.
“Really, between this project and M.O.M., we have had more dental patients on our opening day than we have ever had,” Gardner-Tyson said. The only worry at the fairgrounds Friday morning was a good one to have, she said.
“Things were going way too smooth and we started to wonder, ‘OK, what are we missing,’ ” she said with a laugh. “But that just goes to show the dedicated staff who works on RAM all year round planning for these three days each summer, and the dedication of all of our volunteers who are so dedicated and committed that it is humbling and a privilege to witness and be a part of every year.”
RAM founder Stan Brock occasionally shows up at the Wise County RAM in his classic C-47 cargo plane of World War II fame. This time around, Brock said the noble lady was in the process of getting some upgrades and maintenance work completed, and she and her crew have been invited to the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion next year.
“The thing about that is, it would cost at least $165,000 just to get it to Europe,” Brock said, so he would have to hope some aviation sponsors might take the hint on that one.
Volunteers and patients, meanwhile, swarmed the fairgrounds of the 19th annual RAM in typical fashion, a manner suggesting utter chaos but quite the opposite. A Wise County RAM is also the one event where it would be impossible to stay thirsty or hungry, with volunteers cruising the crowds passing out their bottles of water and sacks of snacks with joyful abandon.
On Friday, that included C.C., a German shepherd service dog volunteering alongside her companion, Matthew Sutherland of Castlewood. A general support volunteer, Sutherland said C.C. delivers water “and carries around” health info bags with as much enthusiasm as a human volunteer.
Kayla Bishop of Princeton, West Virginia, and a sophomore at Radford University planning to go into occupational therapy, was pulling her first stint as a RAM volunteer by working up a survey on informal caregiving, or folks taking care of family members at home, as part of a research study on the subject.
“I think it is really nice how they are able to do this for people,” Bishop said. “I want to come back next year and volunteer more in the health care aspect.”
RAM continues Saturday and Sunday with gates open for patient registration at 6 a.m. daily. The same time applies to VDAF’s M.O.M. dental clinic at UVa-Wise as well.