“And be steadfast in prayer; practice regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down.” — [Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:43]
Dr. Reshma Khan grew up in a Muslim family. But as a young doctor and mother, she studied her faith more deeply — and realized its strong call to charitable work.
On the one hand, selfless giving provides for society's needs. Yet, giving in God's name also purifies the giver's heart.
“This is the cornerstone of the Islamic society and a constant theme in the Qur’anic teachings,” says Khan, an ob-gyn. “Faith should be put into action.”
So she examined her own life. How could she use her medical talents to give back beyond her paid position at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center?
“My purpose is to serve the creator, and the best way to serve the creator is through the creation,” Khan adds. “If God has given me this (talent), I need to use it for more than myself.”
She had long dreamed of opening a free gynecology clinic for women. In 2008, she began actively pursuing it and eventually took her proposal to the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA, which provides social services, women's shelters, programs for the hungry and other nationwide services.
It also funds free clinics in other cities and agreed to help Khan.
At last, a year ago, her dream became the Shifa Free Clinic, a nonprofit in Mount Pleasant that provides a full-range of gynecology services to the uninsured and underinsured — regardless of faith.
At 42, Khan donates her time to provide the center's medical care. Her husband, Dr. Ahsan Khan, a nuclear medicine specialist, serves on its board.
The clinic has provided nearly 300 patient visits already. Two women who otherwise might not have received medical care were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Both now are cancer-free, Khan says.
About half the patients there are unemployed. The remaining 46 percent are employed but either lack health insurance or cannot afford what their insurance plans don't cover.
In a brilliant indigo dress, black pants, a blue hijab head scarf and running shoes, Khan greets her patients with an easy, friendly smile and warm brown eyes. Most patients come here for Pap tests, bleeding issues, pelvic pain and contraception — in other words, important and highly personal health care.
Khan has not heard of another local free clinic that offers full gynecology services including breast exams; screening mammograms; endometrial, vulvar and vaginal biopsies; pregnancy tests; contraception; and pelvic and abdominal ultrasounds.
Khan clinic runs the clinic with about 20 volunteers and companies that donate medical services.
“I have met so many beautiful people with beautiful hearts of all different faiths and ethnicities,” Khan says. “I feel so humbled to be part of this bouquet of people.”
Along with ICNA Relief funding, a $20,833 Blue Cross and Blue Shield foundation grant given to the state's free clinics funded a large chunk of the clinic's first year. Donations paid much of the rest.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control donates vaccines. Merck donates vaccines as well. MUSC's Hollings Cancer Center donates mammography and other services. Lab Corp's donated laboratory services alone were valued at $239,439 last year.
One recent day, four typical patients awaited care. Three of the four were uninsured.
Ilian Moreno has four young children and couldn't afford a $600 fee for a gynecological test she needed. At the Shifa Clinic, she will get it for free.
Angela Pearson recently was laid off. She had health insurance through her husband's job, but they couldn't afford the $150 fee not covered for a procedure.
“It would mean not paying the mortgage or not buying food,” Pearson says.
Michele McFadden works at a local hospital but doesn't have health insurance because she is a per diem employee. Like 90 percent of patients here, she's not Muslim — and it doesn't matter to her that Khan is.
“Health care is pretty universal,” McFadden says. “It doesn't matter what religion you are.”
Khan soon will be joined by Dr. Betsy Rainey, an ob-gyn who just moved to Charleston after serving with Doctors Without Borders overseas.
“These are patients who might otherwise not get treated,” Rainey says.
Embarking on the clinic's second year, what does Khan have planned?
She'd like to increase services by 20 percent and provide free or low-cost osteoporosis screenings and colonoscopies.
Oh, and expand the clinic's Feed the Hungry program and its back-to-school program funded by the Central Mosque of Charleston.
She grins widely. Lofty goals, she knows.
But her faith and belief in serving others made the center a reality in the first place, and she's certain it will carry her from here.
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