You probably know them as the gentlemen with rectangular hats adorned with tassels hanging down, riding around in tiny cars at almost all the local parades. Or maybe you have seen them dressed up as clowns at your town’s festival.
And you probably know it is a fraternal order of some sort.
They are the Shriners. But what you might not know is how much they really do for children with burns and orthopedic conditions – both rare and routine.
Shriners International is a brotherhood of men who join for the camaraderie, friendships, fellowship and great times. But, as Ralph Calhoun, recorder for the Omar Shrine Temple in Charleston put it, about 90% of them join for the philanthropy.
And that philanthropy is to support and fund the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of 22 health care facilities treating patients regardless of their ability to pay.
State-of-the-art care is provided within the international system to children under 18 with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and diseases, or with a cleft lip and palate. Accepting patients with or without insurance, these hospitals turn no one away.
There are 17 orthopedic facilities in the country in the states of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Texas, Utah, Kentucky, California, Oregon, Missouri, Louisiana, Washington, Massachusetts, Florida, Minnesota and in South Carolina – located in Greenville. Two hospitals are located outside of the country in Canada and Mexico, and the burn units are in Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas.
They cover quite a bit of ground, but rightly so since it was 1922 when the first Shriners Hospital for Children opened in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Omar Shrine Temple in Charleston is one of the three temples in South Carolina. It covers 21 counties with roughly 2,600 members, 19 Shrine clubs and within that are 42 Shrine units.
Shrine units are what you see at the parades or events. Calhoun explained that there are clown units, beach comber units, motorcycle units, a hillbilly clan, a jail bird unit, jazz morticians – “You name it,” Calhoun said. “There is a unit for almost every hobby.”
Their purpose, of course, is to raise funds for the hospitals. Calhoun said that the majority of their fundraising comes from the events they hold, usually at the Omar Shrine Temple on Patriots Point Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.
As an organization, they help families obtain the care they need at a hospital that specializes in their child’s condition.
Calhoun said, “We might help get the child to Ohio for their burn program up there, for example. We’ll pay for the child and one parent to fly and we’ll even set them up in a hotel.”
One service offered by the Shriners is called the “roadrunners.”
Calhoun explained: “Being a roadrunner is a popular service that many of the Shriners sign up to do. We will drive the patient and parent to the hospital they need to go to. Recently, a Shriner here drove a child and their parent to Texas. Many of these guys are retired and they love the kids, so it is no problem for them at all.”
The state of South Carolina is lucky enough to have a Shriner’s Hospital in Greenville, which specializes in orthopedics and musculoskeletal conditions.
Trana Pittam is the director of marketing and communications for the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Greenville and she commented on the luxury of having all facets of care in one place.
“It’s comprehensive care, all under one roof. At the Greenville Shriners Hospital, we offer outpatient services, rehabilitation, radiology and physical therapy. We also have a motion analysis clinic to measure the patient’s gait, which ultimately helps determine the best course of care. If that course of care includes surgery, we do that here as well,” she said.
She also explained that their doctors all specialize in pediatrics.
“Kids aren’t small adults. Our surgeons only treat children and understand how growing bodies are fundamentally different than someone who has reached skeletal maturity.”
The Shriners Hospitals in Greenville will treat orthopedic conditions from those that are more mainstream, like a sprained ankle, to chronic and more serious conditions, like scoliosis or cerebral palsy.
They have a Halo program, a scoliosis-correcting device that uses traction to gently pull the spine in a straighter position.
“We currently treat over 85 different orthopedic and neuromuscular conditions, ranging from rare to routine,” Pittam explained.
Along with their state-of-the-art motion analysis center, they use EOS imaging, a low-dose radiation 3-D imaging system that scans the child standing up. Pittam also commented on Shriners Hospitals in Greenville having the largest group of orthopedic pediatric surgeons on staff in both of the Carolinas, who she said, “have world-class reputations. They collectively have 150 years of experience.”
She also mentioned the families that moved to the Greenville area for their child with a rare or serious condition just so they could be closer to the Shriners Hospital.
Calhoun concluded, “These kids will touch your life in a way that you never knew a child could. They are inspirations and it gives us, as Shriners, great joy to see them smile.”
For more information on the Omar Shrine Temple in Charleston, visit www.omarshriners.org, and for more information on the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Greenville, visit www.greenvilleshrinershospital.org or visit their social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) at SHCGreenville.
By Theresa Stratford