January 25, 2002

Flying Sams Celebrate a Year of Success

By Lisa Marguet

The Flying Sams landed in Ensenada a little over a year ago, bringing a free clinic to a community that, up to that time, had depended on home remedies and curanderos to cure what ailed them.

Flying Sams, short for Flying Samaritans, is a voluntary group of pre-med students out of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), who devised and organized the free clinic. "I was stunned by the dramatic difference our group made," stated Elizabeth Stephens, a UCSD student. "I gave this old man his very first pair of glasses. To think that I was able to help him see after all these years was very gratifying."

Dr. Patel keeps busy with patients.

Opening the doors to the clinic took a great deal of work from students, including two years of negotiations with the Mexican government (with the support of the DIF - Mexico's welfare system), and the renovation of a rundown, concrete building into a fully stocked, functional clinic. All that was left was to recruit doctors to volunteer their weekends in Ensenada.

Once the pharmacy was set-up, doctors from across San Diego and as far away as San Francisco signed up. The physicians ranged from pediatricians to internal doctors. With the help of the pre-med students, the clinic has held regular weekend hours serving as many as 70 patients per weekend.

For the students, nothing is more satisfying than being able to help people who don't have access to medical care. Ms. Stephens described how they were able to help one five-year-old who hadn't been able to speak his whole life. The boy was born with an extra attachment of the tip of his tongue to his lower palette. But with a simple operation in which the extra fenulum was removed, the boy suddenly became part of a world in which he had only been a spectator.

"Some patients we are able to aid immediately," stated Ms. Stephens, "such as an elderly man with a gash from a fall in parking lot. Others, such as a boy with a hernia in his lower abdomen, we were able to refer to surgery in the U.S."

"We don't really know what would have happened to some of our patients, if the clinic was not here. Some of these patients don't even have the change to catch a bus to government health care in downtown Ensenada. They have no access to medical care," continued Ms. Stephens.

Students including (in foreground) Shannon Swanberg, Kevan Akrami, and James Dang sort through donated medicines for the pharmacy.

The Flying Sams are acting to change all that. The pre-med students volunteer their time taking vital signs, case histories, translating, running the pharmacy, and even playing with the children of waiting families. During the week, clinics are offered, such as preventive care seminars targeting arthritis, breast cancer, hypertension and diabetes.

The Flying Sams are now looking toward the future, which takes money. To this end, they are hosting their first every banquet in March, where they will celebrate their success with personal vignettes, history and a discussion of future plans. These will include the expansion of the clinic, as well as renovation plans for a larger community room to be used for sewing and parenting classes during the week, a permanent pharmacy, and a third examining room.

The banquet, scheduled for March 1, 2002 at the Double Tree Hotel in Mission Valley will feature guest speaker Dr. Vilayanur Ramachadran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, a professor of neurosciences and psychology at UCSD. He is most famous for his book Phantoms in the Brain, which uncovers answers to the deep and eccentric questions of human nature (such as denial and hallucinations).

For more information about the Flying Sams or the banquet visit their web site at: http://sdcc3.ucsd.edu/~flyings or call 858-481-7563.

(Daniel H. Muñoz contributed to this story.)

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