After brush with death, man gives back with charity

SNELLVILLE - If it wasn't for some good doctors and the grace of God, Parks Mann wouldn't be alive today.

But Mann knows other people aren't so blessed. They don't have insurance and they make enough money to pay for health care, but they don't qualify for government help.

That's why the 59-year-old on long-term disability has worked for 13 years to raise money for the Gwinnett Community Clinic.

This year, Mann's most-popular fundraiser - Run the Reagan - will return after a two-year hiatus.

"I'm lucky to be here, and I'd like to help," Mann said of what he sees as his calling. "I was spared to do something."

In 1993, Mann was hospitalized with his third heart attack when he suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors told his wife he only had a 10 percent chance of waking up after surgery.

This was 25 years after Mann was nearly killed when hit by shrapnel in Vietnam.

So after this latest brush with death, Mann felt the desire to give back, and he found it at the clinic.

Mann's doctor was Lanny Lesser, one of the founders of the clinic in 1989 to supplement the efforts of the two local hospitals.

"They were struggling, trying to raise funds, and Dr. Lesser didn't have time to do that," Mann said. "I put to work some of my marketing skills. There's work for a lot of people to do.

"God had something else for me to do, and when I went and got involved in the clinic, I thought this was it."

Formerly in top-level management at the Coca-Cola Co., Mann can't work at the pace he could before his brain hemorrhage, but he works tirelessly for the clinic, volunteering with his wife, Vivian, at least once a month and organizing the fundraisers.

After all, in every patient he greets, he sees the possibility of one about to have a third heart attack.

"Through the grace of God, I had insurance," Mann said.

Alan Vigneaux of Norcross does not. He's been a patient at the clinic for years.

"I couldn't have functioned without this clinic," he said. "It's saved my life twice."

But Mann, who lives near Ronald Reagan Parkway - the route closed for the annual fundraiser - doesn't take credit.

He's quick to round up volunteers for a photo because the volunteers are the ones that make the clinic possible.

According to clinic administrator Akil Abdur-Raheem, the nonprofit has about 3,000 active patients and another 4,000 inactive files. Open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, volunteer doctors and nurses see 20 to 25 patients a night with a cost of $10.

The lab work, treatment and supplies are written off as indigent care by Emory Eastside Medical Center, which gives the clinic space at the former hospital site in Snellville on Fountain Drive.

Prescriptions are filled for free at Lawrenceville's Monfort Drugs.

Some needy people have even received heart bypass surgery and paid only $10.

Abdur-Raheem's salary and those of two staff assistants come from the clinic's $150,000 annual budget.

During the past two years, Mann organized a golf tournament to raise money for the clinic, but it didn't receive the exposure of Run the Reagan.

A week before this year's race, Mann said he already has $20,000 raised for the budget in sponsorships. And 1,000 runners have already signed up.

This year, an entertainment company agreed to set up for free a family festival for the event.

After expenses, Mann said he hopes to raise between $50,000 and $60,000 for the clinic and another charity, Gwinnett Outreach, which helps kids at risk of getting involved in drugs or gangs.

Waiting for her number to be called at the clinic, Dorothy Walters said she was grateful for the clinic and grateful for the race that benefits it.

"It's a good thing," she said of the race. "They deserve to have it because they volunteer. Whatever can be done for them, they will in turn use it to help people."