Patients receiving dental care at Remote Area Medical.

Well before dawn, a line of people stretched around the building and into the parking lot of Manatee Technical College.

They’d assembled — some as early as the prior afternoon — with the hope of seeing a dentist or doctor. For some, it would be the first medical visit in more than a decade. For many others, the free treatment offered by Remote Area Medical was nothing short of a miracle. 

“You guys are going to save my daughter’s life,” Donna Souza said, while waiting for her daughter, Lisa Ayala, to have an infected tooth treated. 

She explained that Ayala had undergone open-heart surgery earlier in the year and developed a tooth infection during recovery. Doctors warned the infection could become lethal if ignored, but Ayala was unable to pay for the necessary care.

Remote Area Medical, or RAM, treated her infection free of charge and offered similar services to nearly 1,000 other adults and children who walked into its volunteer-operated clinic in November 2016. Stories like Ayala’s were common. 

The first few people to receive treatment were elderly women who smiled through the pain of the dental work they’d received and tried to mouth “thank you.” Children given their first pairs of glasses grinned ear-to-ear, seeing the world around them clearly for the first time. Even those who had been waiting for over 10 hours were happy, knowing they would eventually have their ailment addressed.

Each year, Remote Area Medical provides free dental, vision and medical services to tens of thousands of the country’s most underserved populations, thanks to the generosity of volunteer medical professionals and donors. RAM officials hope to bring clinics to new areas, including Michigan, but are confined to a handful of states due to strict licensing laws that prohibit medical professionals from donating their services.

The need for quality medical care doesn’t stop at state borders. The ability to help people like Lisa Ayala shouldn’t stop there either.