When Jim Withers, M.D., goes on house calls, he's walking down alleys, under bridges and alongside rivers, seeing patients in conditions one would expect in a developing nation.
A practitioner of "street medicine" for 23 years, Withers goes to homeless people where they live, treating medical problems caused by exposure to the elements (frostbite, dehydration, hypothermia) as well as "everyday things" like colds, coughs, diabetes and high blood pressure.
"We've seen people with cancers," Withers told . "We've seen liver failure, people who
needed dialysis that we actually took to dialysis from the street. It
goes on and on and on."
What began with the Pittsburgh, PA-based doctor singlehandedly searching the streets for people in need of his care morphed into the program in 1992. To date, the group has reached more than 10,000 individuals and helped more than 1,200 of them transition to more permanent housing, CNN reports.
The news network recently named Withers to its 2015 "Top 10 CNN Hero" list. Whether or not he gets the top honor of "Hero of the Year" will be determined by viewers. ( lasts through Nov. 15; people can each vote once a day.)
Today, Withers does his "walking rounds" with a small group that includes a social worker, medical student and outreach expert. The program includes a mobile van, drop-in centers and a primary health clinic in its arsenal of care. There, workers connect individuals with more thorough medical care and advocate for them to get insurance and housing. "Wherever they are, they're always within our circle of love," said Withers.
His nonprofit, the, helps communities start their own programs. He's seen his students bring the concept to their residencies, encouraging employers to get involved. He'd like to see the movement go global.
"Having street medicine in every community transforms us," he said. "We begin to see that we're all in this together."
A special television tribute will honor Withers and fellow "Hero of the Year" nominees on CNN on Sunday, Dec. 6.