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There were a lot of people that were helped at SC Mission 2011: Midlands.

The unfortunate part is that there are also a lot more people that need help in South Carolina and around the country.

And I know that within the blink of an eye, I could easily be one of thousands who sat hours upon hours waiting for free medical, eye and dental care during the two-day event that help more than 2,000 people.

Even before the doors opened to SC Mission 2011: Midlands at the Carolina Coliseum, I had said to a group of people I called “my first 50” that I could easily be sitting where they are.  I do believe that. I just happen to presently be working for an organization where health care insurance is available and affordable. That’s not the case for everyone, everywhere.

There are more than 760,000 uninsured South Carolinians, according to the U.S. Census. According to the Census Bureau data, 17% of South Carolina residents lacked health insurance coverage in 2009, up from 15.8% in 2008. Nearly 12% of South Carolina children lacked health insurance as well.

Sometimes I think, “how is that even possible and why can’t something be done to change that”?

There have been moments in my life where I have been uninsured. Once by my own choice as a 20 something working as a reporter at a small paper in Texas. I basically couldn’t afford to have health insurance. I felt like I might as well give the company back my entire check when I factor in those costs and other things I had to pay for. So, I went without.

However, the second time I went without health insurance was in between the job I currently have and the last newspaper I worked for. I could have obtained coverage under COBRA, but the cost to that was not even possible. So, I went without again for several months.

Thank goodness I was and am a healthy person. And also thankful that nothing unexpected happened to me that would require medical care.

That’s not the case for  millions of Americans.

Walking around the Carolina Coliseum shined a glaring light on that fact again. We talk about the number of uninsured in South Carolina often at the hospital association. But there is one thing to talk about the issue, what we are doing with our members to help change that number and another thing to have a microcosm of South Carolina’s uninsured standing all around you.

Each had their own stories to share.

Barbara, who happened to be this year’s first patient at SC Mission 2011. She told me how she had to retire early to take care of her parents, both whom are now deceased and now taking care of four young family members. She is thankful to be a healthy person, but has struggled with her teeth for some time. She needed teeth extracted to relieve her of pain that she had been living with.

And then there was Judi, who was the first patient last year in Greenville. In addition to desperately needing to see a dentist to have teeth extracted, she hadn’t seen a medical doctor in about a decade. She shared that she made a decision years ago that although she needed medical assistance, she needed to use the little money she had to keep a roof over her head, lights on in her place and food on the table.

Here are two women who had worked during their lifetime and yet here they are looking for ways to receive health care services.

I think about them and so many others that I had a chance to speak with during both events. They are not nameless individuals. They are real and people I will never forget.

Were you there and did you volunteer? Share your story.

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