Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Mountain Creek Road resident Bill Hassler helps local children get the medical care they need — for free. One local father was reportedly paying $50,000 per year in medical bills for his son when the Shriners stepped in to provide free medical care.
As driver/dispatcher for the local Shriners group, based out of the Alhambra Shrine Temple in East Brainerd, Hassler organizes trips to Shriner hospitals in Lexington, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio. The Alhambra Shrine pays for transportation, treatments, medical operations and night stays for the children. On the first trip both parents can come and on the second hospital trip one parent can come. The shrine provides meals for the children and their parents too.
“Everyone works together; they are good drivers,” Hassler said of the 15- to 20-driver team that transports the families. “If a driver is sick, then I find someone else to replace him. I’ve been dispatching since 1998.”
Hassler retired as a toolmaker at Mueller Company, so he fills his time now by helping children through the Alhambra Shrine Bus Unit. He lines up fellow driver Jimmy Whitaker of Soddy-Daisy to transport children a few times each month. Shriner Mack Hurst of Red Bank has been driving children to hospitals for 30-plus years, since 1973.
“I like all kids, they are just little people,” said Hassler. “All the drivers have a reason to drive: it’s to help the children.”
He said the program provides more than 600 patients ages birth to 18 from Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia with treatment. The Alhambra Shrine averages 15 to 20 trips per month to the hospitals and each trip costs $250 roundtrip, according to him.
A retired 22-year U.S. Navy Seabee, Whitaker said getting up at 3 a.m. does not faze him. He pulls the van around to the front of the Alhambra Shrine Temple by 4:30 a.m. to pick up children for transport. The van typically takes off for the hospital by 5 a.m.
“I drive from here to Corbin, Ky., to stop and get breakfast and the other driver swaps out to drive to Lexington,” said Whitaker. “Sometimes it’s late getting back. Sometimes we drop off at Lexington and then go to Cincinnati. Occasionally, we get in traffic jams. One time I got out and walked down the lanes southbound on I-75 selling pecan logs for the shrine in a traffic jam.”
Hassler Whitaker joined the Alhambra Shrine Bus Unit in 1993.
“We do it because so many children need our help,” said Hurst. “You see so many children that need help that don’t know how to get it. To see a child at first walking and later running, that makes our day. I would like to see more children in the program.”
He is working on his 300,000-mile mark for driving children to hospitals.