February 22, 2018

Remote Area Medical 

In June of 1993, I volunteered for my first Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic in Union County Tennessee. Early that Saturday morning RAM founder Stan Brock and another volunteer showed up in an old pickup truck with two well-worn dental chairs in the back, and moved them into the basement conference room of the local Health Department.

Dental Volunteers used their own instruments and disposable supplies to provide extractions, fillings, and cleanings while the Volunteer Optometrists did eye exams in the room next door and dispensed second-hand eyeglasses provided by the local Lions Club.

In the early days, much of RAM’s focus was on poor communities outside the U.S., in places like Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Guyana, and others. American Expeditions took place in small isolated areas of rural Appalachia. While we still provide relief in dozens of distant places, most of RAM’s resources are now directed toward helping to alleviate the healthcare crisis in the U.S.

As an aviation-based International Relief Organization, Remote Area Medical relies on its aircraft to deliver food, medical supplies and doctors to provide help in hard to reach places.

Our flagship DC-3 carried troops into battle during the Normandy invasion of WWII and it’s smaller brother, the 1956 Beech 18 (twin beech) cargo plane in our fleet, have both been instrumental in providing medical/dental care and disaster relief throughout the world. Two modern Cessna Caravan Cargo planes donated by FedEx do most of our heavy lifting now. In addition to their regular duties delivering supplies and equipment for RAM missions, they have also recently been used to rescue displaced animals from disasters in Texas and Florida. One of our Cessna 206’s provides ongoing air ambulance services from our base in Guyana, while the other recently air dropped 45,000 prepackaged meals to isolated areas of Haiti devastated by Hurricane Matthew. Land-based operations are supported by a fleet of box trucks including four eyeglass labs, each equipped to provide more than 300 pairs of custom eyeglasses per day. “RAM One” is our double deck race car transporter that carries dental equipment on the upper level and frames, lenses and lens grinders used to make eyeglasses downstairs. In addition to the mobile dental services, our in-house dental lab provides 20 sets of dentures and/or partials every month from RAM Headquarters in Rockford Tennessee. RAM also works with at-risk kids in our RAM Ranger Camps in Guyana, Blaine Tennessee, and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Over the last 25 years my wife Laurel, a Critical Care Nurse, and I have participated in numerous expeditions. The smallest one I remember was our clinic in Atka Alaska. We were the only two volunteers, arriving on Atka, a small speck on the Bering Sea, after flying 20 plus hours from our home base in Tennessee. It was a beautiful place and we enjoyed treating the 60 or so inhabitants, hearing the stories about the history of the island and seeing the reindeer imported to provide food for the people who live there. It was also interesting to work with an Alaskan mid-level Provider (DHAT).

Another fascinating expedition was our visit to the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in Fort Duchesne Utah. The folks we treated were very nice and eager to share stories of their past and their traditions. The weekend clinic started with a traditional prayer including burning sage incense by the local medicine man, ending with a dinner of “Indian Tacos.”

Interestingly enough, I shared this story at a MOM Clinic a few months later and the dental lab technician at the dinner table with us knew the medicine man. He was his best friend during his time in the military!

In 2010, RAM’s Disaster Relief team landed in Port Au Prince within hours of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake to provide food, water, and medical care. A few months later we returned to a small village north of Port Au Prince that had become the epicenter of a Cholera outbreak. We used RAM’s DC-3 airplane to air drop supplies and non-medical personnel into the village while the less courageous of us hiked up the mountain. Our medical team included an Ophthalmologist, Pediatrician, Internal Medicine Specialist, Nurse Practitioner and an Infectious Disease Doctor. The Medical Team treated folks for everything from aches and pains to childhood diseases, fractures, and even Cholera.

The dental team was my wife and me. We did fillings, cleanings, and extractions. The non-medical Volunteers rebuilt the road into the village that had been damaged by the earthquake and cleared a landing strip to provide air ambulance service to the area. Dateline NBC sent a video crew headed by Ann Curry to film the expedition. The full story aired on NBC as an hour-long special titled “Rescue in the Mountains.”

In February 2018, RAM held its 900th Expedition in Knoxville Tennessee. 1865 people received care thanks to the generosity of more than 1200 Volunteers.

Last year alone RAM Volunteers provided $13,550,650 in care, helping 42,072 people in need in 85 separate operations.

My favorite thing about Remote Area Medical is that even after 25 years, I look forward to spending weekends as a Volunteer helping people who would not have access to care without us!

Submitted by: Dr. John C. Osborn 

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