Once each year Alaska's Special Olympics athletes get unique access to health care through the Healthy Athletes program held at summer games. The Alaska program is run by Dr. Michael Kropp and has operated in the state for seven years.
In China, Dr. Steve Perlman retold the story of how Healthy Athletes began.
In the 1990s Rosemary Kennedy’s dental team intended to remove all of her teeth and they contacted Eunice Kennedy Shriver for permission. Shriver refused to allow the procedure and went searching for a new dentist for her sister. Dr. Steve Perlman of Boston University was selected. Perlman was a pediatric specialist willing to treat Kennedy, an adult. As Perlman tells the story, Kennedy needed to be hospitalized for the procedure and other medical professionals were consulted about her medical needs. Myriad health issues were addressed during her brief hospitalization.
After her sister’s successful treatment, Shriver asked Perlman to “teach me everything you know” about health issues among the intellectually disabled. Through this relationship, the Healthy Athletes program was born.
Healthy Athletes provides screening in hearing, fitness, vision, dentistry and other areas. Athletes receive direct services and preventive care in a one-stop environment. They are treated by volunteers trained in the special health needs of the intellectually disabled.
According to Perlman, individuals with intellectual disabilities are underserved by the medical community in the US and elsewhere. Perlman is committed to getting this population designated as "radically underserved" by the U.S. government so funding and services would increase.
Since 1997, Healthy Athletes has screened more than 500,000 athletes and trained more than 50,000 health professionals and volunteers. Alaskan Kathy Privatsky has been a volunteer with the program since World Winter Games in Anchorage. Privatsky will provide hearing and speech screenings in Shanghai.
Watch for a future post on the “Opening Eyes” program.