Military medical professionals provide free health screening at local school

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Reporter - Mychaela Bruner
Photographer - Jason Thomasson

WEAKLEY COUNTY, Tenn. - More than 125 military medical professionals gathered at a local school this week for a nine day deployment. But, it was not your usual military deployment. The military offered free health care to the public thanks to a program called Innovative Readiness Training, or IRT. Free health screenings including physical exams, mental exams, dental and eye exams brought thousands of people to Martin Middle School in Tennessee.

The free health screenings are open to the general public and available for all ages. The screenings have been offered since July 9 and run through Wednesday  from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Many lined up to wait their turn. Some people even camped out Monday night near the front of the line. Several people said they could not be more grateful for this free public service.

Elbridge, Tennessee resident Odie Erwin said he has not been able to see well for years. "I can't see out and I can't see up close, either one... Can't see, I'm as blind as a bat," said Erwin.

Thanks to this free screening program in Martin, Erwin says his life will change. "I'll be seeing things I haven't seen in years," said Erwin.

Erwin is not the only one. People lined the hallways in hopes to receive free medical attention. Community Development Director of Martin, Tennessee Brad Thompson said about 3,000 people have walked through these doors.

Thompson said, "The area where we see a big deficit in health care is dental and vision. Those areas here have been swamped." He also said, "its been a very rewarding experience to see how appreciate people are of receiving this care. They're in desperate need, especially those in pain."

Navy Captain Russell Kirk has been an oral surgeon for 12 years and says he has been treating about 60 to 80 people a day. Kirk said, "They have lack of care and being able to come in and provide it on even a limited basis, makes a huge impact. Hopefully, this can be done again for this community."

It is obvious these medical procedures do not go unnoticed. Kirk said, "We've had several people get hugs and there's tears of joy and we've had a lot of people leaving here with just overwhelming gratitude."

The people say they could not be more thankful for this life-changing experience. After Erwin was finished with the eye tests he said, "I haven't seen this good in years."

Kirk said, "It's a sense of accomplishment on my part. The fact we can take some of these individuals who have less resources than most of us and give them care and relief, that's the highlight of the day. That's why we are all here."

At the end of the day, the training the military receives is a benefit for not only them, but for the patients as well. The city of Martin applied for the IRT grant through Hope of Martin Community Development Corporation. Thompson said the program's primary mission is to provide health care to those who live in a community that's not conducive for providing health care to people.

You still have a chance to take advantage of this free health screening. Wednesday is the last day and the doors open at 8 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

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