WESTLAKE : Clinic Staff Runs Itself Ragged for Charity

As a volunteer pediatrician for the Clinica Monsignor Oscar A. Romero, Dr. Juan Carlos Ruiz is accustomed to putting in long hours in the examining room. But today, the physician and three of his colleagues have donned their running shoes and are putting in extra time on the city's streets as they run the Los Angeles Marathon to raise money for medicine and medical supplies.

Ruiz and fellow Clinica Romero volunteer doctors Maria Romo, Luz Medina and Henry Flores have trained for three months, adding early morning and late-evening training sessions to their hectic medical schedules.

"A few weeks ago, I was working almost 90 hours a week," said Ruiz, 33, who also puts in time at the Community Health Foundation in East Los Angeles and as a clinical instructor for the USC School of Medicine. "I felt like quitting. But when I thought of all the money I could raise for our patients, it made me want to keep going."

Ruiz persuaded his fellow doctors at the clinic--all of whom have run marathons before--to apply to the Los Angeles Marathon as one of the event's official charities so that the clinic could legally use the marathon as a fund-raiser.

The Clinica Romero was accepted for the marathon's list of about 50 charities last fall, and its runners have been collecting pledges of $1 and $2 per mile from fellow doctors, students, friends and members of the community with the help of clinic staff. They hope to raise $5,000 to $10,000.

The Clinica Romero has provided free medical care, dental services and health education to homeless and low-income people in the Westlake area for 12 years. But Ruiz says the public and private funds received by the nonprofit clinic are sometimes not enough to treat a growing number of patients that now averages about 6,000 a year.

"We're trying to raise as much as we can," said Margie Martinez, executive director of the clinic. "All of our services are free, so the more money we raise, the more services we can provide to more people."

Martinez said several independent runners have called to volunteer as additional fund-raisers.

Other doctors, nurses and volunteers for the clinic or those who are familiar with its services will also participate for pledges in the marathon's bicycle race and 5-K run. About 35 people will run for the clinic, and they acknowledge that the training has been inconvenient at best and occasionally downright grueling.

"One day we ran 19 miles under heavy rain," Ruiz said. "People were looking at us like we were crazy. We were all soaked."

Maria Romo, a 40-year-old obstetrician who also volunteers at the Community Health Foundation as well as working in her own private practice, has had to adapt her training schedule around what can sometimes amount to a 100-hour work week.

"I run between deliveries," said Romo, who is the oldest of the Clinica Romero runners. She has participated in 10 marathons, all of them wearing her pager. During the 1993 L.A. Marathon, she was paged to do a delivery while completing the race.

Although Romo has collected pledges for other charities as an independent runner, she is pleased to be part of the clinic's effort this year.

"Most of us have a goal in mind," she said. "That's an added bonus when you're doing this, knowing that you're doing it not just for your own health, but for the health of others."

As part of their involvement in the marathon as a charity, the clinic has been given one mile of the course along Sunset Boulevard between Elysian Park Avenue and Alvarado Street on which to set up booths offering health education literature and free health screenings.

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