The first Special Olympics MedFest aimed at screening athletes within Metro Nashville Public Schools was held Friday, September 22 at Lifepoint Health in Brentwood, Tennessee. The event included several screenings that are vital to athletes participating in Special Olympics sports. These screenings included receiving a physical from Vanderbilt Health, Opening Eyes optical screenings and Special Smiles dental screenings. In all, over 100 athletes were screened from multiple schools in Nashville including Hunter's Lane High School, Valor College Prep and KIPP Nashville College Prep.
To begin the screening process, athletes received vital sign scans from Lifepoint Health volunteers. They then went on to receive an optical screening from Opening Eyes Clinical Director Dr. Beth Sparrow of the Southern College of Optometry.
"A lot of times, patients have undiagnosed vision problems that even with just a pair of glasses would make a huge difference in their lives," said Sparrow. "Even just a small difference could make a big difference to the athletes."
In order to participate in several Special Olympics Tennessee sports, it's imperative that athletes be outfitted properly to safely participate in the field of competition.
"Sometimes, it may be that they can't see the ball as well," said Sparrow. "Sometimes they need protective eyewear because they might only have one good eye that we make sure to protect, and that's another way to protect it."
Sparrow is also the Clinical Director for Special Olympics Tennessee's Opening Eyes discipline. When presented with the opportunity, it's something she immediately wanted to be a part of.
"As a school, we've been able to come for several years to participate and when I was given the opportunity, I recognized that there is a huge need and it made me feel really good that I could help," said Sparrow. "It's always great to bring our students from Southern College of Optometry and have them participate, see the excitement of the athletes and help them with their eyes as well."
Once athletes received their vision screenings and physicals, they moved on to the Special Smiles screenings performed by students of the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry and made possible by Delta Dental of Tennessee. These screenings also include instruction on correct brushing and flossing techniques. Dr. Joyce Barbour is the Clinical Director for Special Smiles and she has been bringing her students to Special Olympics screenings for years.
"I love seeing the progress of the athletes," said Barbour. "I have treated them before and they're happy and remember me. It means everything. I love giving back and I love giving back to people that don't always have the best access to healthcare."
During Special Smiles screenings, not only do Special Olympics athletes receive care and attention but the students and residents performing the screenings receive vital training to help them in their future careers.
"I have so much hope for the future of healthcare after being a part of Special Smiles," said Barbour. "My students and residents here no longer have that fear of treating patients. They interact more than just talking. They feel happy and excited about it. I just received an email from one of my former students who is continuing her training at another school. She's the only person there, because of her experience with Special Olympics, who was able to connect with a patient with special needs who was non-verbal. They actually got her to say a few words because of her comfort with the student."
The Healthy Athletes initiative is continuing to change the lives of Special Olympics Tennessee athletes, healthcare providers and volunteers. To learn more about all of the disciplines within Healthy Athletes, click here.