To the Torch Bearers


Dear Friends of Mercy Health Clinic,

The Clinic receives a continuous influx of gratitude from the neighbors we serve in Montgomery County. But gratitude flows outward from the Clinic as well. As we enter our 15th year of service to the less fortunate of our community, we pause to thank those who make our work possible:


* Volunteer providers who donate thousands of hours of primary and specialty care expertise every year
* Volunteer staff who provide nursing and clinical support, translation, eligibility screening, patient navigation and related administrative services
* In-kind partners who donate laboratory and radiological support services, legal and financial guidance, and pharmaceutical products
* Generous corporate and individual donors who believe in our mission and support our growing financial needs
* Our public funders and advocates who recognize the Clinic’s important role within the safety net healthcare system of Montgomery County
* An all-volunteer Board of Directors who share their wisdom and experience in guiding the Clinic’s direction
* A lean paid staff who keep our clinical and administrative operations humming along

However you may fit into the categories above, you are critical to us! You have made our vision become a reality. Your contributions are inspiring and are making a difference right here in our community.

A wise person said: “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” Here’s to you, the “torch bearers” of Mercy Health Clinic!

In gratitude,

Christopher Perez
Chairman, Board of Directors


Between a Walk and a Hard Pace

I’m a big fan of Scandinavian crime fiction. I’d love to visit Norway or Sweden some day, although I’m a bit concerned about the apparent proliferation of serial killers over there. Aside from dysfunctional detective chief inspectors, though, my favorite export from that part of the world would have to be Nordic walking, also known as pole walking or urban poling.

I first learned about walking poles in a magazine for people living with multiple sclerosis. The article described how folks with uneven gaits, stability problems, and balance issues could continue to enjoy walking for recreation and exercise through the use of walking poles. Many of us with MS or Parkinson’s fear tripping and falling; for instance, my left foot doesn’t always lift quite as high as it needs to, and I’ve endured a couple of scary and embarrassing face plants. So far I haven’t seriously injured myself, although one of those falls tore a hole in the knee of my favorite skinny jeans as well as bloodied the knee of my actual skinny leg. But that fear means I tend to walk slowly and keep my eyes focused on the ground, rather than enjoying the sights and sounds around me. What’s worse, I start to lurch after about a half mile as my muscles weaken, and don’t relish my neighbors thinking that I’ve been at the sauce quite that early in the day. A cane is fine for trips to the mall or shopping, but it doesn’t allow me to walk at a fitness pace, get my heart rate up, or work my core (more on that below).

Although the article discussed the specific technique of “Nordic walking”, the poles I ended up buying after some web research were of a type sold under the brand name of “Exerstrider”. The Exerstrider poles have a special handgrip design and arm-extension technique that promised to work my arm and core torso muscles more intensively during the walk. That sounded great to me, as I’m in a constant battle against the dreaded muffin top (and mostly losing). The upper-body motion is similar to that used in cross-country skiing. (Note to the wit in my neighborhood who invariably shouts “Hey, where’s the snow?” when I chug past your house: That was amusing the first five times you tossed it my way, buddy. Get some new material.)

The poles cost about $100 for the pair, which is pretty cheap for exercise equipment. (Unlike a treadmill or exercise bike, though, the poles can’t do double-duty as a convenient place to drape your dirty clothes. Alas.) I have an exercise room at home, so I normally just wear ratty yoga pants and holey t-shirts when I work out, but going out in public with the poles was an opportunity to invest in some cooler duds like Spandex running pants, colorful Dri-Fit shirts, and neon-laced running shoes. Along the way I’ve added a ball cap with a brim to keep the sun out of my eyes and a waist pack for my house key, energy gels, ID, and phone. My phone, by the way, is not just for calling home for a ride if I decide I can’t make that second mile (which, for the record, has never happened). I use an app called MapMyWalk, which uses the GPS in my phone to track and record my route, miles walked, steps taken, and calories burned; it also plays music from my iTunes. (Mostly the Boss and the Talking Heads, in case you were curious.)

Walking poles not only improve my stability by providing essentially two more “legs”, but also engage my upper body and arms to help move me along, dramatically improving how far I can walk. I routinely walk over two miles around my neighborhood in about 40 minutes. No one who sees me hustling along with my poles can tell I’ve got a neuromuscular disorder and would be in a gelatinous heap on the ground without them. I look like anyone else out there walking, running, or biking to stay in shape. Pole walking isn’t for everyone, but for many of us, it’s a terrific way to get outside and keep moving.

You can find out more about Nordic walking on the web. Some sites I’ve found helpful:

I’m not endorsing any particular kind of pole or program, but if you’d like to learn more about my experiences with pole walking for fitness, feel free to send me email at I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, I’ll be getting back to my Scandinavian police procedurals. Skoal!

Important: As with any new exercise program, if you decide to give Nordic pole walking a try, check with your doctor first.

— Pam Saussy, Board Member

I Only Have Eyes For You

June is National Cataract Awareness month. Were you aware? I was not, but I should be better informed, as I’m no stranger to vision problems. I have worn glasses since the fourth grade and can’t see worth a darn without them. When I headed off to college I got contacts so I could (theoretically) meet cute guys, since glasses hadn’t yet become associated with fashionable hipsters and gazillionaire tech wizards.

Contacts turned out to be tough since my eyes were too dry; I’d go through bottles of eye drops like a fiend. Once I got married and we acquired a house and a dog and a baby, I ditched the contacts in a defiant burst of trying to simplify my life. (Right. Did I mention the house and dog and baby?) Anyway, I went back to glasses and enjoyed being able to see without the red swollen eyes of the tear-impaired. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had floaters and flashers, and a brief bout of optic neuritis at one point. And my near-sightedness means I’m at higher risk of a detached retina, just in case I didn’t have anything to ponder at 4 a.m. when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

And now I come to find that I could have even more to worry about in the future. The Prevent Blindness organization ( recently published a study, “Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems”, which reports that nearly 25.7 million Americans ages 40 and older have cataract, a clouding of the eye’s lens which blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. This number is expected to increase by 50% — up to 38.5 million people – by 2032 and up to 45.6 million by 2050. While most cataracts are due to aging, they can also be congenital or caused by eye trauma, exposure to radiation, even some medicines or diseases (including diabetes). Most cataract patients today are women. More cataract patients today are white although the study indicates that this trend will level off and actually decrease by 2040. According to the study, Hispanics will exhibit the fastest rate of growth in cataract cases.*

Whew. Those are some scary projections, but the good news is that, with proper eye care, vision loss due to cataract can be restored. Learn more at and see your eye-care professional regularly.  Even if you don’t currently wear glasses, eye exams should be part of your health maintenance routine.

One more thing you should know.  Because eye care is an essential part of wellness and good health, ophthalmology is one of the many specialty on-site clinics provided at the Mercy Health Clinic.  Two volunteer ophthalmologists are part of the MHC volunteer provider team, and patients are examined using the same modern equipment you’d find at any ophthalmology office. What’s more, the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind sends an optometrist twice a month to do diabetic retinopathy screenings. As a lifelong “four eyes”, I’m thankful for these generous volunteers and sponsors who help Mercy patients maintain their eye health and vision.



— Pam Saussy, Board Member

On Not Taking Health Care for Granted

I joined the Mercy Health Clinic board this year because I believe that everyone is entitled to high-quality health care and want to help them get it. All of us who support Mercy share that belief and desire, but to be honest, I only started giving that first notion truly serious thought over the past few years, when my own health concerns forced me to leave the workforce and a job I loved. At first, I spent more emotional energy mourning my lost work identity and trying to figure out how to stay relevant in the world; I was only just turning 50 at the time so I bristled at being wished a happy retirement. I jumped into various volunteering gigs to stay active and connected with people, and to avoid becoming defined in my own mind as a patient.

The condition I’m managing, multiple sclerosis, isn’t fatal in most cases. But the medication to attempt to keep it at bay is ferociously expensive, to the tune of over $5,000 a month. (Don’t ask me why any ingredient in a capsule justifies a price tag of $180 a day; that’s not what this post is about but it’s a great question for someone smarter than me.) I also have hypertension and high cholesterol, which are readily managed with daily medications and medical oversight. These meds aren’t nearly as pricey as my MS drug is, and nowhere near the cost of the complications they seek to prevent, but still not cheap.

Fortunately for me, I have health insurance. I pay a monthly premium for peace of mind, knowing that I’ll be able to stay on the medications and get the medical oversight I need to stay as healthy as possible. Despite the occasional headache in navigating the health care system (usually haggling over that expensive medication), I don’t lose any sleep over whether I’ll be able to do what I need to do to keep on keeping on.

As I have navigated my own health adventures, I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for those around us who do not have health insurance to achieve that peace of mind. In Montgomery County, about 65,000 people are in that boat, most because they lack sufficient income to pay for health insurance even with a subsidy or because of their immigration status. Many are one illness or injury away from financial catastrophe and its inevitable effects on employment and family security.

Fortunately for them, there is Mercy Health Clinic. Mercy is a lifeline for so many of our neighbors here in Montgomery County, providing health and wellness information and support, specialty medical care, lab services, and pharmaceutical services free of charge. I’m looking forward to helping spread the word about Mercy and continuing to contribute my time and financial support to help it stay ready to serve those in need.

–Pam Saussy, Board Member


With Gratitude…

Our Heart of Mercy Gala on April 5, 2014 at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC, was a huge success. The venue, the decorations, the dinner, but most of all, the energy of our generous patrons, all combined to create a night to remember. We even set a new attendance record.

The following letter appeared in the Gala program booklet. We’d like to share it again in this blog installment because its sentiments of gratitude and optimism bear repeating!

“Dear Friends of Mercy Health Clinic,

In our busy lives and with all the marvels of modern medicine at our disposal, we can sometimes overlook the true value of our healthcare. We may even take it for granted. It’s there when we need it and we schedule it into our hectic routines.

But for a large segment of our community, this is not the case. The lack of healthcare options is a burden that wears on thousands of individuals and families right here in our area. With nowhere else to turn when illness strikes, these low-income, uninsured neighbors rely on safety net facilities like Mercy Health Clinic.

Your generosity helps keep this lifeline in place. On behalf of the patients we serve, thank you.

There’s nothing quite like the gift of health because it affects both the giver and the recipient. The laying of hands and the art of healing are deeply moving and profoundly human experiences that are shared by the caregiver and the patient. At Mercy Health Clinic, we are inspired by the gratitude, relief, and renewed hope expressed by the people we serve. We hope you are lifted up as well; you deserve a share because you are an intrinsic part of every story that unfolds here at the Clinic.

For all of the time, talent, treasure, and moral encouragement you share with us throughout the year, you have our deepest gratitude.

Christopher Perez, Chairman, Board of Directors

John Kleiderer, Executive Director”



My Journey with the Clinic

I’m Chris Perez, and I serve on the Board of Directors of the Mercy Health Clinic. In 2014 I’ll be honored to take on the role of Chair of the Board. I’ve been humbled and inspired as I’ve watched the Clinic grow and establish itself as a beacon of compassion in our area. I’d like to share a few personal observations about the Clinic and what it has come to mean to me.

I’m proud to say that I was present at the ribbon-cutting for the original Clinic location in Germantown back in 2000. Like many people, my wife and I first became involved as financial supporters of the Clinic. From there it was a natural progression and I found myself volunteering on various Clinic committees. Board service soon followed. At some point I realized that the Mercy Health Clinic had quietly worked its way into my heart. It has a way of doing that.

We give and receive

Mercy Health Clinic asks for no payment in return for the medical services it delivers. Yet many transactions take place every day we’re open. Our patients bring their illnesses and anxieties, and they exchange them for specialized care and renewed hope. They bring their pain and sometimes their tears. They leave with comfort and a caring smile. In each and every case, the people we treat leave behind more than they take. Their overwhelming gratitude is palpable and it keeps our volunteers energized and uplifted.

Those who support the Clinic as donors and volunteers benefit in other ways, too. We find that our view of the world is lifted upward and outward. Our own worries and concerns are put into stark contrast with those of the people we serve. The Clinic helps us focus on the needs of others.

In speaking with our physicians and clinical staff, I often hear that some patients are reluctant to ask for help. There are many possible explanations: cultural mores, pride, even denial about the severity of their illnesses. As the stewards of the Mercy Health Clinic, we can’t afford to be reluctant in asking for YOUR help on behalf of all our patients. We hope we’re able to touch your hearts in a way that opens them to the needs right here in Montgomery County. Please consider getting involved in some way, as a donor, committee volunteer, clinical caregiver, translator, greeter; there are many entry points.

Looking ahead

The Clinic’s tagline is “Quality health care from the heart for those in need.” That’s a theme that you will see woven throughout this website. We’re doing our best to embody those words with every patient we treat.

The low-income, uninsured adults we serve are facing ongoing challenges. Even with the changes sweeping our healthcare system, many of them are still left on the sidelines. Ironically, even though we live in one of the most affluent areas of the U.S., there are tens of thousands of our neighbors who rely on Mercy Health Clinic as a safety net.

In future posts I plan to tell you more about the good works of the Mercy Health Clinic. We’ll feature our patients, profiles of our volunteer staff, and other stories from the heart that show how we’re helping people. I hope you’ll decide to be a part of one of these stories.