July 31, 2008

ASK Clinic is the Answer for Refugees: Numbers Are Soaring at Free Monthly Clinic

By Jennifer L. Boen, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Jul. 31--Every chair in the waiting room was occupied at ASK Ministries' clinic for Burmese refugees this week. Since opening in January, the free monthly clinic has seen its patients more than triple.

Many come for medications to treat their diabetes or high blood pressure. A few bring children with rashes or fevers.

On Tuesday night, one elderly woman barely moved as she patiently waited more than an hour to see Dr. Khin Oo, a native of Burma who volunteers at the clinic.

"Who do we have?" Oo asked, gesturing to volunteer Tonya Donahue to start sending patients back to the exam rooms. An English as a Second Language teacher at New Haven High School, Donahue ushered patients to rooms and did whatever else was needed.

Saw Ridgeway, also a native of Burma and a dentist in his former homeland, headed to the lower level of the clinic, 2513 S. Calhoun St., to assist in the area where medications are given out. The clinic is open at other times for general as well as specialty needs.

Thiha Kyi, a dentist in Burma who just completed his MBA from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, went over a patient information form with a mother who had brought her 2-year-old to the clinic. Ridgeway and Kyi were dental school classmates in Rangoon, then joined the revolution against the military dictatorship that now runs Burma, also called Myanmar. They eventually fled to a refugee camp, then to the United States.

The child slept peacefully as her mother, Eh Ku Thay, carried her down the hallway, where a large poster hung of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning, imprisoned opposition leader and hero to the clinic's patients.

Kyi asked the mother about the girl's medical history. He and other volunteers spent nearly 15 minutes with each patient, conversing in their native tongue to ensure all information was accurate.

"She has allergies and itching," Kyi said of the girl, listening intently and jotting notes on the chart.

Patients in the waiting room watched a Burmese movie, a melodrama.

"Last month I brought an American movie. Most couldn't understand it, and they didn't enjoy it," Kyi said, pointing out one of the movie characters as "a very famous Burmese actor."

No one complained about waiting. No children fussed or cried. For the elderly woman, it was the first time she had undergone medical care in years, said ASK Executive Director Eve Bratton, a nurse practitioner.

Bratton founded ASK in 1997 and does pediatric exams, draws blood, greets patients, keeps tabs on pharmacy inventory, and secures donated drugs, lab supplies and medical equipment for a variety of clinics throughout the week.

A donated nebulizer was used to give inhalant medications to Tin Myiht, 46, whose breathing became more labored as she waited Tuesday night. Volunteers took her to an exam room for a breathing treatment as soon as they noticed the problem.

"She had run out of her (asthma) medication," Bratton said.

"It's getting harder to get donations, especially of things like this," she said, referring to a high-tech machine that gives quick readings of patients' blood.

The clinic's $95,000 annual budget comes from private grants and support from individuals, churches and businesses.

Like most nonprofit leaders these days, Bratton is concerned about the drop in cash donations.

"The money (that) people used to give they are now using for gas."

Finding truth in the clinic's name, Bratton, whose paying job is with the VA hospital in Fort Wayne, never doubts needs will be met. ASK is an acronym based on Matthew 7:7 in the Bible: "Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you."


Burmese in Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne has the most Burmese refugees -- 4,000 to 5,000 -- in the United States. Aided by the local Catholic Charities and Friends of Burma, they began moving here after a pro-democracy uprising in Burma was put down in 1988 by the ruling military junta. Last year, about 600 Burmese refugees resettled in Fort Wayne, and another 800 are expected this year. More will arrive by "secondary migration," brought by family and friends already here.


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