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Shriners offering free healthcare for MacDill children

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt Staff Writer

You could search the world for better orthopedic care and probably would not find it, says Bob Elkin, adding that not only does the Shriners Hospital in Tampa offer the best in treatment but it's free for members of the military.

Elkin,regional coordinator for the Shriners covering a seven-county area, said the availability of free medical treatment, right up to lengthy hospital stays that otherwise would cost thousands of dollars, is little known to many, a situation he hopes to rectify through spreading the word.

"I would say a lot of the public and military out there are not aware we offer these specialty services," said Elkin. Elkin said MacDill and the Shriners inked an agreement in June 2001, making it as easy as a phone call and a quick form for military parents to utilize the hospital's services at no cost.

While the Tampa hospital specializes in orthopedics, the benevolent group of Free Masons also has hospitals for children suffering from burns and spinal cord injuries.

It's world-class care without the cost," said Elkin, who added that the real difference is the extreme level of support the Shriners can provide for children with complicated problems.

"It might take six or eight months to grow bone in some cases," Elkin said. "No other hospital in the world can keep a kid for six to eight months."

Elkin said MacDill personnel should investigate the Shriners if they have children suffering from burns, orthopedic problems or spinal cord injuries. He noted there is not a lot of red tape involved in getting started. The Shriners Hospital can be reached by calling 813-886-6154 or toll free at 877-937-5437.

"We basically need name, rank and serial number," said Elkin. "Once we have that we can get started."

Elkin said the Shriners have treated some 675,000 children since the organization started its first treatment facility in 1922. Among famous Masons and Shriners have been presidents and celebrities including John Wayne and Ernest Borgnine. Pat Carson, who serves as a goodwill ambassador for the Shriners and a liaison to MacDill, said the group has emerged over the years as a "massive, caring and sharing organization" dedicating much time and millions of dollars to helping sick children.

"It's all about the children," said Carson. "They are what matters the most to us."




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