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A Dying Mother’s Wish Inspires NOVA Korean Church's Health Fair

Story by Jerry K Lee
Published 5/24/12

Dr. Gino Kim meets with a patient. Spurred on by his mother’s wish that he use his medical skills to help others, Kim and other members staff a monthly health fair.

My small church, Allegheny East Conference’s NOVA Korean church, is blessed with many healthcare professionals, such as nurses, dentists, nurse practitioners, physicians and others. Many of our 75 members staff the NOVA Community Health Center (NCHC), a nonprofit organization we started after seeing a need for affordable medical care, especially among recent immigrant communities.

The idea for this monthly health fair came from physician Gino Kim’s mother. Kim remembers when his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While preparing for her last days, she and the family traveled to health centers in the United States and to her native South Korea. As she was visiting these places, she was impressed by the volunteerism and Christian love shown by many Seventh-day Adventist church members who tried to comfort her and her family. Kim, an internist, accompanied her on many of those travels. She told him that her last days were made much more bearable because of all these strangers helping her and her family. During some of these travels, she encouraged her son to use his skills as a physician to serve strangers.

When Kim shared with Pastor Won Hoi Koo and other church leaders the idea of offering a monthly health fair held every fourth Sabbath after potluck, they all immediately supported it. In January we entered our fourth year of doing these health fairs. Most church members and all healthcare workers now participate in the smooth running of the fair.

“Patients” to this health fair not only get blood draws but also counseling about the possible need for prescription medications and referrals. The church’s dental professionals also provide routine dental consultations. Because we do not have our own church building (we worship at the Edgar Allan Poe Middle School), it has become increasingly difficult to provide full, routine medical care. Therefore, during the past year or so, we have streamlined the process so we can serve as many “patients” as possible in a very efficient manner.

In addition to providing individual counseling, church members present seminars on health topics such as controlling diabetes, choosing healthy food and how high cholesterol can damage blood vessels. We also offer vegetarian cooking classes, couples’ seminars and concerts.

In addition to having many healthcare workers, our church members include professional statisticians. So we collect data. During each health fair, there are about 40 patients. Patient ages range from 15-75, the average age is about 45 years old and there are slightly more women than men. Most patients are either Koreans or Spanish speakers (Dr. Kim is fluent in Spanish). About 45 percent of patients are Koreans. About 70 percent of patients have high cholesterol.

Although our goal is to provide affordable medical care, due to space, legalities and personnel issues, we are not able to provide more services at this time. However, based on our three years of solid experience running health fairs, we are now poised to pursue our goal of providing more comprehensive healthcare. We are slowly accumulating funds for the future and planning a more comprehensive fund-raising effort.

I’m still amazed to see how the hope of a mother sewed the seeds of this valuable Christian service in our church members.
Jerry K. Lee, MD, PhD, is a member of the NOVA Korean church.

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