It's been 31 years, which means at least that many lives have been saved. Every year that Dot Cofer organizes the McDuffie County Health Fair, she hears testimonies of someone who learned of a health problem they didn't know they had.
"Every year, somebody finds something that would have been a really bad problem if they hadn't found it," she said. "It's sort of my service to the community, really. And as long as I have good health, I keep on doing it."
The success stories are so numerous that Ms. Cofer gets confused which year they happened. One year, she said the lab called her Saturday evening after the fair and asked her to check the registration records and find the doctor's name of a person who's lab work wasn't good. They lab called the doctor that evening, who called in the patient. Ms. Cofer later found out that the gentleman had been experiencing chest discomfort, which he was chewing antacids for because he thought it was indigestion. His lab work, however, revealed cell damage.
"And by Wednesday, he'd had a full by-pass," Ms. Cofer said. "And the doctor told his wife that he probably would have had a big heart attack and died had they not gone to the health fair."
Other success stories include the discovery of hemochromatosis (the presence of too much iron in the blood which is fatal if not treated), and several different cases of mouth cancers that were discovered in time to be treated.
"And every year there are just a lot of people who find out they have high cholesterol and are able to get under a doctor's care. And every year we find four or five new diabetics," she said.
An average of 550 people attend the fair each year to take advantage of the free medical screenings, which include height, weight, blood pressure, pulmonary function, oral cancer, foot checks, vision, hearing, diabetes and bone density.
Approximately 30-35 educational exhibits will provide information on stress prevention, exercise for the elderly, scams, pet care and a visit with Smokey the Bear. Visitors to each booth can enter in a drawing to win $100.
Other booths will address unique health procedures and issues such as orthopedic surgeries and asthma. This will be the first year that the National Asthma Institute will have a booth where they will be testing for breathing problems and showing a video.
"It's so detailed, it's just like asthma 101," Ms. Cofer said.
The only tests which require a payment is the blood chemistry test, which is priced at $20. Ms. Cofer said so many people take advantage of the test, which checks comprehensive metabolic panel, lipid profile, cholesterol, triglycerieds, diabetes, liver, kidney, heart, anemia and more, that she received complaints last year of the long lines.
"So I have told the lab that I do need more help, and they are doubling the staff so people won't have to stand in line so long," she said.
Additional tests include thyroid for $6, hemoglobin A1C for diabetics for $14, prostate cancer for men for $14. All blood tests require a $3 drawing fee, which includes mailing the results to the patient and their physician. Those who wish to have the blood chemistry tests should not eat for 12 hours before coming to the fair.
Because her mother passed away recently, Ms. Cofer said she has received phone calls this year from people who are concerned she won't be having the health fair.
"And it's logical to think that, but I still am going to have it, even if we don't get as many exhibitors as usual," she said. "When I retired back in 1996, a lot of people was afraid I was going to stop then. But I don't have a reason to."
The 2008 Health Fair will be from 8 a.m. until noon, Saturday, April 19, at Thomson High School. Admission is free.