Where you live should not determine whether you live. That reason alone is why a group of nurses hit the streets of Orlando searching for women in need of life-saving mammogram's.
Bakari Burns remembers how vigilant his mother was about her breast care.
"Every year, after she turned 40, she would get her mammogram's. This particular year, she got a mammogram, and they noticed there was a spot," Burns says.
The year was 2005. The spot was cancer. Luckily though, an early diagnosis of the disease meant no chemotherapy or radiation. Through his own personal experience, Burns made it his professional business to help women not as lucky as his own mother.
"So my reasoning for wanting to start this program was to give homeless and uninsured women the same opportunity at early diagnosis," he says.
Burns, the chief executive officer at the Healthcare Center for the Homeless, had an idea: find a way to get funding so mammogram's would be free for women who are unable to pay. He wanted to meet women where they were, since many of them could not get to the clinic. The team at the Homeless Outreach Partnership Effort (HOPE) was already in place. They were identifying the women, many of them living on the streets and in the woods.
Nancy Pfaff, a registered nurse on the HOPE Team, says, "Just because they are homeless doesn't mean they don't deserve or need medical care."
The aggressive outreach program leaves the comforts of the clinic and hits the streets, searching for women, and even men, in need of care.
One homeless woman, who calls herself Tish, says, "The way they help others, and help us by coming out, taking their time, talking to us about our medication... cause that really helps cause that gives us a good outlook about what things that are going on."
Pfaff has become a familiar face in the homeless camps around the city. Her focus, especially during the month of October, women over forty. She worries, "maybe they don't understand how to do a self-exam, they don't know what to look for, they don't have the equipment to exam themselves."
So she comes to them. to educate, and in many cases, she tries her hardest to get them out of the camps and into the clinic.
Dr. Pia Valvassori, Ph.D says, "It takes a long time to build that rapport with patients. It might take a couple of months before we can breach the topic of screening and mammogram's, cause so often we are addressing more immediate needs, whether that be food, often times."
In less than 10 minutes, at the clinic, the mammogram is complete. And its free for women without any form of health coverage. None of this could happen without grant money from the Central Florida chapter of Susan G. Komen, an organization worried about the statistics, like one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Those dollars allow women's mobile medical services to deliver the equipment needed for the exam.
James Davidson, with the Women's Mobile Medical Service, says "the waiting list is incredibly long, the service is in demand. Its just a blessing to be able to provide this service for an underserved population."
In the early years, only 30 women could get tested every year. With increased funding from Komen, for the past two years, the clinic can increase services and now sees 30 women once a month. "I was just told, we provided over 15 hundred mammogram's to uninsured and homeless women since 2006," Burns says. And the number keeps growing. The more women they meet, the better. "It inspires me, when I hear those stories, it makes me go back to my office to write more grants to get additional funding."
And his mom continues to be his motivation helping to save lives, one woman at a time.
If you would like to know more about the mammography program, or how you can help support the service for women, please contact Terri Betts at 407-428-5751, ext. 326, or through email at Tbetts@hcch.Org.
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