CHAPTER 3

TIMA USA Northwest

Part 2

Written by Vivian Chang, Jennifer Chien, Karen Hsiang, Janet Li, Jessie Lin, Renee Liu, Kitty Lu, and Sherry Shih
Edited by Yingying Lee

Free flu shots are offered during Tzu Chi’s Health Day event in November 2001. Pictured is Sandy Peng (left) and senior volunteer Anqiong Huang (right). Photo/Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region

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TIMA San Jose

In March 2002, TIMA held a promotional tea gathering in San Jose, and recruited medical volunteers on the spot. William Keh, then director of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, California, and the convener of TIMA in the United States, personally came to host and called for more professional medical workers to join the TIMA San Jose chapter that was emerging. The medical team, composed mainly of Tzu Chi volunteers and TIMA members who complement each other, has a bright future ahead, indeed. Free medical outreach activities and the scope of service have only continued to expand with the Northwest Region’s pace of charity and relief, entering low-income communities and school campuses to serve more underrepresented individuals and families.

Jean So, who had a pre-med background and volunteer experience in various hospitals in the Bay Area, was originally in charge of the Tzu Chi Youth Group here. After stepping down in 2008, she joined the medical team at Chijen Huang’s invitation and worked as a volunteer, becoming an indispensable new force for the Northwest Region’s TIMA chapters.

She was responsible for all the complex medical affairs of the Northwest Region — including monthly medical meetings, hosting medical activities, planning external activities, training and management of medical volunteers, and coordinating free outreach activities for Tzu Chi’s mission and the Northwest Region and its local offices — and has always been on the frontline. She also proactively and successfully obtained grants for community medical activities, allowing the medical team to have more medical resources with which more services could be provided.

In June 2018, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor Susan Wang takes a patient’s pulse at a summer community free clinic in San Jose. Photo/Eric Lin

In September 2002, Wendy Chuang, a chiropractic neurologist with TIMA, returned to Taiwan to participate in the TIMA Global Forum and was deeply moved. After returning to the United States, she led several students from medical schools to participate in free clinics. At the same time, Northwest Region volunteers were active in introducing and recruiting family physicians and other specialists they know to join TIMA. 

Susan Wang, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, first participated in Tzu Chi’s free medical outreach activities in 1998, when she and other members of the United California Practitioners of Chinese Medicine volunteered at a free clinic, during which she felt lucky to be able to serve patients with her peers. In August 2007, when TIMA San Jose and the Kaiser Permanente Medical Office in Stockton held a Health Day event, Wang suggested providing TCM acupuncture treatment and called on five TCM practitioners to participate. In August 2008, ten TCM practitioners served in the grand event. Since 2007, she has been the general coordinator of 15 free clinics, rallying the involvement of many doctors and medical volunteers from various specialties and introducing Tzu Chi to other collaborative agencies and organizations in the community.

Dr. William Keh visited San Jose from time to time to care for the development of TIMA, and has successively established several TIMAs in Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region, including San Francisco, Seattle, Fresno, and Sacramento. He also encouraged the Northwest Region to obtain a Dental Mobile Clinic, paving the way for fundraising efforts by the Region’s volunteers to purchase one.

Healthy Fresno, a community health plan, launches in 2013 to provide free clinic services to local residents. Pictured is preparatory work for a March 15, 2013 event. Photo/Nancy Ku

From Barren to Bountiful

The Northwest Region’s free clinic team assembles doctors with diversified backgrounds. In addition to doctors affiliated with TIMA Chapters in Northern California, there are TIMA members from other regions, as well as caring doctors from local communities. Patients can choose the corresponding department to register and seek medical treatment based on their own needs and conditions.

 In 2008, the Northwest Region raised funds to purchase a Dental Mobile Clinic. With its sophisticated equipment, Tzu Chi’s free dental services could effectively reach out to more distant communities where local residents may experience barriers in transportation. Since then, Tzu Chi Northwest Region’s medical mission has embarked on a new journey. The Mobile Clinic can not only travel far, but also provide important free clinic services.

In 2011 and 2012, the Northwest Region participated in large-scale free clinic activities sponsored by Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Oakland and Sacramento for four days each, providing medical services to thousands of patients. These were the most extensive free clinic events that the medical team had joined up to then. After two years of participation in such large-scale free clinic events, the volunteers were confident in independently organizing a large-scale free clinic. 

This work is very meaningful. I feel that helping others when I have the ability to do so is the realization of a grateful heart. People live a happy and rich life when they learn to be grateful to each other and help each other!

Dr. Kevin Hwang participated in the free clinic co-organized by RAM and Tzu Chi in Oakland, and was deeply impressed by it. Seeing people braving the cold weather and queuing up in the middle of the night for medical treatment, he felt that the mission was so important that he had to invest all his efforts into it. A phone call inviting Hwang to participate in a Tzu Chi free clinic event in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1998 was the impetus that initially drove him to join TIMA activities. He was so excited to participate in a free clinic for the first time that, with the accompaniment and support of Tzu Chi volunteers, he insisted on seeing all the patients in the queue. After the free clinic, the volunteers’ encouragement touched him deeply, and this original intention has stayed with him to this day.

Because I studied medicine, I want to dedicate myself to helping society, to solving the problem of pain for patients all over the body, and most importantly, to let them recover their health.

Since April 2008, TIMA San Jose has been participating in and providing dental care at the Healthy Living Health Fair, an annual event organized by several religious organizations, and its participation continues to date. On May 19, 2013, the Tzu Chi campus in Milpitas also launched a bi-weekly designated free dental clinic, providing oral hygiene education, scaling, filling, and extraction services for low-income households without dental insurance. 

On January 9, 2017, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) outpatient service was added to the designated free clinic. Here, “designated” means that it is no longer just a one-time visit for the patient, who can return to this office for regular follow-up and planned resolution of ailments. Since then, internal medicine, chiropractic, and other services have also been added, and it is hoped that more people will benefit through the expanded designated free clinic. The designated free dental clinic in Milpitas paused its service in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reopened to the public on July 12, 2021, after the lockdown lifted in California.

Since June 25, 2023, the Northwest Region began offering free community clinic services at its Office in San Jose to provide low-income residents with Western medicine, TCM, dentistry, ophthalmology, chiropractic care, and other specialty services. While people who went to the bi-weekly designated free clinic in Milpitas had to provide a Medi-Cal card or proof of low income, the free community clinic at the Northwest Region Office in San Jose — held three times a year (spring, summer, and fall) — was open to anyone seeking treatment. 

Hangsheng Ni, a patient from the designated free dental clinic in Milpitas, is a community resident with a low income who holds a green card. He recalled initially going to the clinic with mixed feelings because he didn’t know how the volunteers would view him. “But then, when I saw the volunteers treated the people at the clinic in a warm and friendly way, my concern was relieved,” he said. “And I was at ease after Dr. Stephanie Wang explained the condition of my teeth.” After stepping out of the clinic, he saw a piece of empty land on campus. Thinking of the enthusiasm and patience of the medical staff and volunteers just moments ago, he made a wish to use this piece of land to plant vegetables for the free clinic’s medical staff and volunteers. Later, this empty land became a bountiful vegetable garden for all. 

The designated free dental clinic in Milpitas was relocated to the Northwest Region Office in San Jose in October 2023, and continues to provide quality medical care to low-income families in need.

Renal Support Groups

Tzu Chi Northwest Region volunteers in the San Jose area had discovered from free clinics and health talks that many long-term dialysis patients of Chinese descent needed help. In 2005, they established a Renal Support Group to fill the lack of dialysis medical information available in Chinese. The group is dedicated to providing free language services in Chinese, including medical information, home care, diet and nutrition, and social resources, with the goal of alleviating the suffering of patients and their families, and improving their quality of life.

In the early days, there was only one dialysis nurse and a few support group members. Later, the healthcare team increased year by year, and now there are kidney specialists, dialysis center nurses, dietitians, dermatologists, pharmacists, and others involved, and they have served hundreds of support group members, among whom more than 100 patients have had successful kidney transplants. 

The success of Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region’s first Renal Support Group would inspire the establishment of others. On October 19, 2014, the Sacramento Service Center started one to meet the community’s need for kidney health information. Participants in the Group include patients and family members who share their caregiving and kidney transplant experiences.

The Northwest Region’s team of healthcare professionals and volunteers regularly invites nephrologists to Tzu Chi Renal Support Groups to share medical knowledge, case experiences, dietary health guidelines, and precautions to take before and after kidney transplantation. They also set up care cases for patients in need of help, accompanying them through the uneasiness of undergoing dialysis and the journey of successful kidney transplantation.

Patient Puisham Wong came into contact with a Renal Support Group in 2006 due to a kidney problem. During the five years when he waited for the kidney transplant, he experienced both physical and mental anguish. Despite receiving a kidney transplant in 2012, many unforeseen conditions occurred. The Renal Support Group volunteers accompanied Wong and his wife Min Lu along the way, helping the couple navigate life’s hurdles one after another. Lu said she lost count of the number of Tzu Chi volunteers who had helped them and was deeply grateful.

My husband’s rebirth was made possible by Tzu Chi. Without Tzu Chi, he would not be here today. Those unforgettable days are still fresh in my memory and will be remembered forever. Our family is really grateful!

Lu is grateful to Tzu Chi for its care for more than a decade through the hardships of dialysis and kidney transplantation. She was so moved that she became a Tzu Chi volunteer, vowing to spread the love Tzu Chi has given them. Every day, she cares for local seniors, some of whom have been on dialysis for a long time, and some of whom have terminal cancer. With love and patience, Min Lu accompanies them and their families through difficult times. “I’m grateful to Tzu Chi, and to volunteers Sherry Shih and Steve Shih, who are my husband’s saviors,” she said.

Patient Rucheng Lin started dialysis when he was 55 years old due to kidney failure. In 2009, he joined the Tzu Chi Renal Support Group, where many professional doctors, nurses, and dietitians regularly provided him with the most up-to-date information, which helped him become more confident. Seven years later, he successfully completed kidney transplant surgery in 2016. “After the surgery, Tzu Chi volunteers came to visit me, which made me feel warm, and I am very grateful for the selfless love of Tzu Chi volunteers,” said Lin. “I hope to continue to make progress in the future, and will fully support Tzu Chi’s activities.”

Renal Support Group volunteers accompany patients through life’s hurdles one after another. Photo/Chris Fung

TIMA USA
TIMA Northwest

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