The ‘life-changing’ nonprofit Healing Hands Ministries is expanding and moving

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Glen Thomas likely would have died had it not been for Healing Hands Ministries’ Dr. Natalia Gutierrez.

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Glen’s father, Henry, was uneasy about his adult son’s lack of medical care. At 51, Glen was uninsured and couldn’t afford a premium. Through research, Henry discovered that Glen qualified for primary and preventative care through Healing Hands, a small clinic located in an office strip right around the corner from his Lake Highlands home.

About a year after becoming a patient, during a routine visit, Glen mentioned some stomach discomfort, so Gutierrez, the staff physician, ordered additional lab tests.

By the end of that day, Glen was in surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed.

LISTEN to patients talk about the way the clinic changed their lives: HealingHands

The type of cancer Glen had, Henry says, would be a “death sentence” without early detection and treatment. Henry already had lost his wife to cancer and battled it himself. He thanks Healing Hands, and God for leading him there, he says. Now his son has a fighting chance.

“This place is a blessing,” Henry says. “I just want to express how good the overall clinic and medical care has been and, from an administrative standpoint, too, how wonderful the staff is.”

The experience has been unnerving, Glen says. Had the tumor not been discovered, it would have kept growing.

“I felt pretty healthy. Just some stomach problems, but I wouldn’t have known,” Glen says.

He started chemotherapy to remove the remaining cancer last month.

As Glen and Henry are sharing this experience with us, Dr. Gutierrez enters the room. She hugs the indebted father and son, and they catch up. They haven’t seen each other since the day she sent him off for a colonoscopy following those irregular blood tests.

“She saved my life,” Glen says.

Healing Hands Ministries is celebrating its fifth year of operating its charity clinic, and like many 5-year-olds, it is suffering growing pains.

From the day it opened in 2007 with four volunteer physicians to today — with 44 volunteer doctors, 14 volunteer dentists and one full-time paid physician on staff — Healing Hands has been bursting at the seams. The clinic treated 250 patients in 1,500 visits that first year. That mushroomed to more than 3,000 patients and 9,915 visits in 2011.

Healing Hands recently announced plans to relocate its medical and dental clinic to a larger facility, doubling its medical capacity and increasing patient load.

The expanded facility, which will be located at Greenville and Royal, will offer additional services, including on-site healthcare education and group support for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, an on-site dental laboratory and on-site referral services for a variety of other non-profit agencies.

“Although we treat many families and children who live outside the boundaries of Lake Highlands, it was important to us to remain in the Lake Highlands community,” says neighborhood resident Janna Garder, founder of Healing Hands Ministries. “Lake Highlands has been so generous to us, giving not just money, which we have so needed and appreciated, but also time, mentorship and prayer. Staying in Lake Highlands was a given.”

The new clinic is expected to open April 1, 2013.

How great is the need for charity medical clinics such as Healing Hands?

“There will always be a necessity for clinics like ours, which can provide affordable care for the uninsured and the underinsured,” Gardner says.

Leandro and Delia Vargas have made visits to the clinic since it opened five years ago. For 28 years, the Vargases had good insurance. Then, Leandro lost his job.

“After that, we had to pay for medical care,” Leandro says. “We had to set up a payment plan to go to the doctor.”

Delia learned about Healing Hands through Presbyterian Hospital.

“It has changed our lives,” Delia says. “I get mammograms and blood pressure checks. Leandro has gotten help for a shoulder injury. I know if I am not feeling well, I can go see a doctor.”

Many uninsured people simply can’t go to a doctor when they need to. That’s why a clinic like healing hands is so important, Delia says.

“I think sometimes people die because they don’t have insurance or the ability to see a doctor.”

Healing Hands charges clients $10 to see a doctor and $15 to see a dentist. They never turn anyone away for inability to pay. The societal value, however, is difficult to quantify. As Delia notes, folks who formerly clog up emergency room waiting areas are now treated in the clinic, freeing hospitals for true emergencies.

Not only the Thomas and Vargas families, but also an entire neighborhood is experiencing increased quality of life thanks to the many Healing Hands Ministries volunteers, Gardner says. Children who used to miss school now attend class. Family breadwinners with spotty work records now bring home a paycheck, she notes.

“It’s a win-win for the whole community.”

Visit for information on Healing Hands Ministries. One way to support the nonprofit is to participate in its annual golf classic on Oct. 1; details available on Healing Hands’ website.

—Carol Toler contributed to this report. Audio edited by Lauri Valerio.