Guitar with your feet? Internationally acclaimed musician to visit free clinicWORTHINGTON — Almost a year and a half after the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic, a ministry of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, began, the Rev. Jim Callahan said the clinic is still going strong and is fulfilling its purpose — saving people’s lives.
By: Alyson Buschena, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Almost a year and a half after the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic, a ministry of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, began, the Rev. Jim Callahan said the clinic is still going strong and is fulfilling its purpose — saving people’s lives.
Even though the clinic may be free to patients, running the clinic is not.
“We pay for the prescriptions and all the supplies, like stethoscopes and thermometers — all that is expensive,” Mariana Gutierrez, Spanish Ministries Coordinator, said. “The doctors do give their time and talent, but we don’t expect them to bring things with them.”
To raise money for the clinic, internationally acclaimed guitarist Tony Melendez will be performing in Worthington three times this weekend.
A sponsor reception will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at BenLee’s in Worthington. Tickets include wine, hors d’oeuvres, a meet-and-greet with Melendez, a small concert and a short presentation about the clinic. The Saturday ticket will also allow entrance to the concerts on Sunday.
“The event Saturday will be more than a concert,” Callahan said. “It will be a meet and greet with Tony, and he’ll give a concert and tell a bit about his story and being disabled.”
Two longer concerts will be given Sunday — a Spanish performance at 1:30 p.m. and an English concert at 7 p.m., both at St. Mary’s Church.
According to his biography, Melendez was born without arms in Nicaragua to a mother who had been prescribed thalidomide, a drug used for morning sickness that was later banned for causing severe birth defects.
Though Melendez wore artificial arms when he was younger, he was more comfortable using his feet to do daily tasks. In high school, he began playing the guitar and harmonica.
In 1987, Melendez was invited to play at the World Youth Day in Los Angeles. Pope John Paul II was in the audience and was so moved by Melendez’s performance that he approached him on the stage to kiss him in appreciation.
Callahan was at that World Youth Day in 1987 and said that St. Mary’s is blessed that Melendez, who has won multiple awards — including the Positive Role Model for America award from President Ronald Reagan and multiple Unity Awards for vocal performance, will be coming to Worthington to help raise money for the clinic.
Operated every six weeks, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic seeks to provide uninsured patients with free health care.
During the clinic last Saturday, 89 people were seen by doctors, family practitioners and nurses in the Worthington Chiropractic Clinic, where the health clinic is operated. More people were seen at the rectory, where a natural family planning seminar was also hosted.
To run the clinic, volunteer medical staff, translators and support staff give their time and skills.
"I don't know if the patients know the high quality of care that they are receiving," Callahan said. "Just last weekend, we had a world-renowned neurologist here."
He explained that many of the doctors are employed by Sanford, Avera and Mayo, and that all three of those hospitals have agreed to cover the doctors’ insurance while they are volunteering at the clinic.
“It’s been phenomenal the number of return physicians and staff that we’ve had,” Callahan added.
While the clinic has received some criticism, it cannot be argued it isn’t doing good in the community.
Last weekend, a family practitioner examined a woman who complained of having trouble breathing. She was immediately sent to the hospital for an X-ray and then admitted to the emergency room after fluid around her lung, caused by an infection, was found.
On Tuesday, she went into septic shock as the infection spread. She was airlifted to Sioux Falls, S.D., and is now in stable condition.
“The problem is,” Gutierrez explained, “because they don’t have the correct paperwork, many of these people don’t do preventative care and only go to the hospital if they are very ill and need to go to the emergency room.”
In the past, the clinic has saved a woman with high blood pressure that could have had a stroke at any moment, as well as a 19-year old male who was discovered to have a severe heart condition and could have died without treatment.
“People feel comfortable and safe coming to our clinic because it is by the church and they trust the people who help at the clinic,” the Rev. Luis Vargas said.
Callahan and Gutierrez agreed the success of the clinic is largely based on forged relationships.
“It’s about relationships, not making money,” Callahan said. “The doctors are concerned about the patients they see and they develop relationships. People can see there is no threat and that they can come back.”
Gutierrez added that one of the doctors told her the work he does at the clinic reminds him of the reason he became a doctor.
Callahan also noted that while the clinic may be led by St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the volunteers that make the clinic possible come from many different denominations and faiths.
Callahan, Gutierrez and Vargas all said they hope the work of the clinic will continue and that the fundraiser will be a step in the right direction.
“It is not easy for the doctors to come (and give their weekend), but this is for God and we hope it will continue,” Vargas said.
Tickets for the concert are available at St. Mary’s Church and BenLee’s. Advance purchase is recommended.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at