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Special tribute to founders opens 19th RAM

Stephen Igo • Jul 20, 2018 at 10:37 AM

WISE — Although the first patients will stream through the gates of the Wise County Fairgrounds at daybreak Friday, the curtain was drawn open to the 19th annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition Thursday evening with a special tribute to Knoxville-based RAM founder Stan Brock and Health Wagon founder Sister Bernie Kinney.

The annual orientation session for volunteers became a heartfelt salute to the pair who collaborated nearly two decades ago to stage a free health clinic in Wise County that quickly evolved into the nation’s largest such event, renowned nationally and even internationally.

Thursday’s tribute to Brock, whose earliest claim to fame was his role in the “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” TV show of yesteryear, and Kinney, a plucky nun who first gained notoriety in Southwest Virginia for delivering health care services to the most isolated of communities from a battered VW Beetle, showcased the sort of “can do” attitudes and achievements the two wrought that thousands of RAM volunteers bring to the fairgrounds.

Brock told volunteers he will “never forget the day” he first met with Sister Bernie in Mountain City 20 years ago to talk over the possibility of his RAM — an outfit delivering free health care services across the globe, generally in the most remote of places — making a show of it in Southwest Virginia. Brock was tag teamed at that initial meeting by the formidable persuasive powers of not just Sister Bernie, but Teresa Gardner-Tyson, now the executive director of the Health Wagon.

“In the case of these two young ladies,” Brock said of Sister Bernie and Tyson, “it happened.” Added Brock, “It is my pride and joy to work with these two young ladies” over the last 20 years.

For her part, Sister Bernie said “every mile was an adventure” during her last 40 years in Southwest Virginia. Those miles most certainly included her health-care-on wheels excursions into the mountainous terrain aboard the Health Wagon’s very first “wagon,” a VW Bug. Nowadays the Health Wagon has a new RV superbly equipped with medical gear, a mini health clinic on wheels.

Gardner-Tyson called Brock “my hero” and Sister Bernie “my mentor. What you all have done is beyond words (and) God bless you both for what you have done for our community and our region.”

Dominion Energy Vice President Bill Murray, following his presentation of a Dominion Foundation check for $50,000 to the Health Wagon, called Wise County RAM “a great event. An event, unfortunately, that will have to continue for at least the forseeable future to serve the needs of the people. I just have to say the Health Wagon is the best idea in health care, ever.”

A full range of medical, dental and vision health services is available at no charge to all comers. Gates open for registration at 6 a.m. daily Friday through Sunday. In recent years, the hundreds of volunteer health professionals have provided well in excess of $3 million in free health care services at the Wise County RAM.

Patients are reminded to bring their prescription medications/information to RAM, along with sunscreen and an umbrella.

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