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Free Clinic Serves Disadvantaged

The Herndon Free Clinic provided its 1,000th free physical last week to a child from a low-income family.

In a few weeks, 5-year-old Maxwell Nosegbe will enter kindergarten. But his family, which just arrived from Nigeria, cannot afford the $120 needed to pay for their son's health physical, a school-system requirement before he can attend class.

"He just got here last month from Africa," said Rufus Nosegbe, the boy's grandfather. "He needs a physical before they will let him into school."

So Nosegbe got a free checkup last week at the Herndon Free Clinic, held twice a month at Herndon Middle School. Volunteers, including registered nurses and doctors, checked his height, weight, vision, iron levels and more, providing him with the necessary documentation needed to receive an education.

Last Thursday, the Herndon Free Clinic provided its 1,000th health physical to an uninsured child, marking a significant milestone for the community organization serving families from Herndon and Reston who earn below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

"We're trying to help our community by helping these children get into school," said Jeanie Schmidt, the free clinic's president.

August is a busy month for the clinic because so many children are entering the school system. Last week, families packed into the middle school's lobby, waiting for their child's chance to be checked out.

Approximately 11 percent of Fairfax County residents are without health insurance. An organization like the free clinic helps children avoid health problems that could grow worse if left untreated, said the clinic's chief physician, Dr. Chris Chiantella.

"Some of these kids have never had any medical care at all," he said.

Nancy Susco, a frequent volunteer at the free clinic and director of Reston Hospital's surgical unit, said she and the 15 other regular volunteers from Reston Hospital see the clinic as a way to help the most disadvantaged people in society.

"The great thing about this is that we're providing children with the health care that they couldn't get otherwise," Susco said. "It's really very rewarding."

THE HERNDON FREE Clinic was founded two years ago, after Schmidt, a retired nurse, learned that poor children in Herndon and Reston were simply not going to school because they could not afford the required physical examination.

The organization has grown steadily to include almost 200 volunteers since then, with new recruits arriving at just about every clinic.

But as the free clinic continues to grow, so does the need for free health screening for the poorest residents of the region, many of whom are immigrants and the working poor, Schmidt said.

From July 2003 through the end of June, the free clinic examined 557 children. With those examinations, the free clinic was able to identify 69 cases of poor vision, 40 children who were anemic and 89 children with cavities.

Upon identifying such health problems, the clinic refers the children to a network of physicians and specialists who offer either free or reduced-price health services.

"I've always felt that you can't blame kids for any disadvantage they're born into," Chiantella said. "They have no control over their situation."

THE 1,000th CHILD given a free physical examination last Thursday was a 12-year-old Herndon boy named Juan.

As Juan went from station to station, undergoing various health tests, he told the volunteers how much he likes Michael Jordan.

Upon reaching his final health inspection station, Chiantella presented him with a backpack filled with school supplies as all of the volunteers cheered.

"We couldn't have done 1,000 children without such very, very dedicated volunteers," Schmidt said.