The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

Gillette Outreach Clinic Tale

When Wanda and Carey Schlecht of Willmar, Minn., took in foster son Cody at six weeks old, they were told that he had spina bifida, an incompletely developed spinal cord and covering. "We were told that he would probably never walk," recalls Wanda.

So when Cody was an infant, the family began going to the Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare Outreach Clinics in Willmar, Minn. There Cody received several services, including foot and ankle braces. Today Cody, who is 8 years old and in 2nd grade, walks, runs, rides his bike and plays soccer, and he continues to receive much of his care through Gillette Outreach.

Cody is just one of many children benefiting from the clinics, which save pressured families long drives and money to get care, mainly for children. Some of the children have suffered brain traumas from bicycle falls or gunshot wounds and may require protective headgear or computer devices to speak for them. Others, like Cody, live with spina bifida or with cerebral palsy or spinal muscle atrophy, which can affect swallowing as well as walking and head and neck control; such children may need braces, spasticity-management devices, custom seating supports and other orthotic aids. Still other children must live with lost limbs and require prosthetic devices.

Whatever the ailment, many disabled children in Minnesota don't live near hospitals that can deal well with their needs. That's what gave birth to the Outreach Clinic of St. Paul-based Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare hospital, whose vans sometimes must travel 7 1/2 hours to reach remote sites across the state.

"Parents have told us that if not for us, they would have to spend so much time and money driving that they would never even be able to take a vacation," says Dave Wilkie, manager of the Outreach Clinic. "We figure that we save families between 300,000 and 400,000 driving days" a year.

That's was why Wilkie started the clinics. At first, in 1985, the operation was just Wilkie on a motorcycle with a sidecar and tools. Today, the clinic's three vans, filled with special equipment, serve more than 200 clinics, which are commonly held for 1 1/2 days and sometimes up to 3 days.

One of three specially equipped Outreach Clinic vans.

Eight-year-old Cody Schlecht, who suffers from spina bifida, has benefited from Gillette Outreach Clinic services since he was an infant.

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