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Mobile X-ray unit headed for Clinchco

Stephen Igo • Feb 14, 2007 at 10:00 AM

CLINCHCO - Few if any physicians are likely to have a framed graduation certificate from a big rig driving school included on their wall of college diplomas and other professional certifications, but Kingsport pulmonologist Dr. Joe Smiddy can boast a tractor-trailer driving license to go along with his medical credentials.

Prior to this afternoon's clinic at St. Mary's Health Wagon in Clinchco, Smiddy will have conducted his big rig driving duties before commencing his physician functions.

The region's volunteer-fueled, donor-supercharged mobile X-ray unit will be at the Health Wagon's Clinchco offices beginning at 2 p.m. In additional to chest X-rays for pre-selected patients under the direction of Smiddy, Dr. Harry Turner, a cardiologist with Kingsport-based Cardiovascular Associates, will provide a cardiac clinic.

St. Mary's Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Gardner said Smiddy - who also provides pulmonology services out of an office in Big Stone Gap - serves on the Health Wagon board, so getting the X-ray mobile unit is a benefit the donor-supported organization really needs.

"(Smiddy) has really been a tremendous benefit to us. He sees the need in the area. He's been really great," said Gardner. "That mobile unit is a blessing. We have a way now to serve patients better than before. That has been an answer to a long prayer."

About a year ago, Smiddy said Wellmont Health System donated a lead-lined trailer. He said a "whole lot" of volunteers swarmed to make it serviceable. Kingsport Armature provided electricians, and C&C X-Ray in Knoxville added the technical flourishes.

"With the help of volunteers and very kind donors, we were able to convert it to a chest X-ray mobile unit. We did that because there is a tremendous need for chest X-rays in our area," Smiddy said. "We live in a lung cancer belt, and in our day job at Pulmonology Associates in Kingsport we see a lot of late-stage lung cancer. If we can pick up on more of these early, that's to the good of patients."

Smiddy said Short Mountain Trucking of Mooresburg, near Rogersville, donated a "wonderful tandem-axle road tractor. The thing runs like a charm. We're on a mission to find early lung cancer and have a plan to go where the need is."

The only trouble was, who drives?

A solutions-oriented physician, Smiddy figured he would.

"I went to tractor-trailer school," he said, adding that it's "not really" a whole lot of fun to maneuver a big rig in tight places.

"It's really a lot of work. I'll be going through a hairpin turn in Pound (on Thursday). It's a huge vehicle, so you have to drive carefully and use a lot of caution," he said. "It's actually kind of tedious."

Smiddy said it is important for people to know that St. Mary's Health Wagon serves the medically underserved in Dickenson, Wise, Russell and Buchanan counties of Southwest Virginia on a wing and a prayer and donations.

Donations to St. Mary's Health Wagon can be sent to the organization at 119 Number Ten St., Clinchco, VA 24226.

"St. Mary's Health Wagon serves a big need in that area, and they need all the donations they can get," Smiddy said.

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