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Princeton doctor provides health care to Black Belt, receives national recognitioncomment (0)

December 23, 2010

By Anna Swindle

When Dr. Sandra Ford was 8 years old, she witnessed a black woman’s death in a doctor’s waiting room. At that time, waiting rooms — along with many other places — were segregated and white patients typically got better, faster access to care.

“At 8 years old, it impacted my life so profoundly that I asked God to enable me to become a doctor so I could … help people like that woman,” said Ford, an internist at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham. “Then after 25 years of practicing [medicine], I was reminded of my promise when my husband and I read an article in The Birmingham News called ‘The Black Belt: Alabama’s Third World.’”

The article prompted her and husband Henry to initiate an outreach to the region, and the Spirit of Luke Charitable Foundation — which sponsors A Promise to Help (APTH), a nonprofit working toward eliminating health care disparities in the Black Belt — was born. Resources began to come together in a way she said could only have been from God, and soon their organization had access to a mobile clinic.

Once a month, dozens of volunteers travel from Birmingham to the Black Belt to work with the Spirit of Luke. Several Birmingham churches have adopted communities in the region, but the Fords said there are still about five areas that have yet to be adopted.

With the help of more than 3,500 volunteers over the past six years, the ministry has been able to provide health care and medication for more than 10,000 Black Belt residents and seen hundreds accept Christ. In addition to offering health care, APTH provides clothing, food, school supplies and more.

“We’ve had volunteers from all walks of life, from as far away as Alaska and Cuba and South America and from 22 different denominations the last time I counted,” Henry Ford, executive director of the Spirit of Luke and an ordained minister, said. “God has a special place for the poor and forgotten and has put it on thousands of people’s hearts.”

For David Bivin, a member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, volunteering with the Spirit of Luke has become a family affair. He and his family travel to the Black Belt with the Fords about three times a year. Bivin said it has made a profound impact on their lives.

“A lot of people want to participate in missions, and not everyone can go to South America or Swaziland, but just about everyone can take a Saturday and go a couple of hours from where they live and go to basically a different world,” he said. “So we’ve really tried to encourage our friends and people we go to church with. You don’t have to go halfway around the world to make a difference.”

And others are starting to take notice of the need and the work being done. General Mills’ Feeding Dreams program recognized Sandra Ford as its Community Champion for Birmingham. Though she didn’t win the title of Grand Champion and the $10,000 grant that came along with it, she was thankful for the nomination.

“We’re very grateful to General Mills for giving us the exposure,” she said. “I look[ed] at this as a win whether or not we actually [got] the award, because just the exposure for the Black Belt and for the Spirit of Luke has been amazing. We are winners already.”

Still the Fords said the money would have been a huge boost to the ministry. One of their most pressing needs is a van to use as both volunteer transportation and a way to bring people from especially remote areas to the mobile clinic to have access to care and other resources.

They also want to reach out to an area of Wilcox County where residents only have a primitive sewer system, severely impacting their quality of life.

“You wouldn’t believe you could go an hour or two from Birmingham and witness people living with hardly a sewer system,” said Sandra Ford, who is also an ordained minister. “We hope we can eventually help them to get their current system to a more functional place.”

For more information, visit www.spiritofluke.com or call 205-786-4029.

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