The Free Medical Clinic of America celebrates 20 years

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Knox County, Tenn. (WVLT) It's estimated that nearly a million Tennesseans don't have health insurance. But well before the Affordable Care Act was an idea, a doctor right here in east Tennessee set out to help.

Dr. Tom Kim gave Tennessee its first free care clinic. As the grandson of a Presbyterian minister and the son of a man who helped his family escape communist North Korea, Kim opened the clinic to spread his faith and to give back to a country which he's grateful

This year his clinic celebrates its 20th anniversary, giving Kim time to reflect back.

"I was shouting, you know, 'I can do this...' Free clinic set for working poor. That was something," said Dr. Tom Kim.

It was a vision to help the uninsured, one that's grown from a small South Knox clinic opened alongside his private practice to clinics in four counties.

"Man it changed. My hair's really grey. And I'm really blessed because around me there are volunteers, doctors and nurses and other administrators working the front. And without them... I wouldn't be able to help," said Kim.

Despite his frantic schedule, sometimes driving up to 180 miles, it's patients like Pamela Sharp that keep him going.

"I don't have insurance for coverage. I don't have possibilities of even getting medications," said Pamela Sharp.

After her eardrum blew, too many sick days left her without a job but bills didn't stop.

"I paid out of pocket $60 to see the orginal ENT that had originally done the surgery. You know, they were kind enough to actually see me, but that was money I took out of rent," said Sharp.

Thanks to Dr. Kim, she's getting car without falling deeper into debt.

"I feel a little sometimes tired, what are you doing. But I feel so good, I help one person today. There are just so many people already diagnosed diabetes, hypertension and they don't take care of it. There's just no where to go so here we are," said Kim.

Although Dr. Kim's nearing 70, he doesn't have plans to slow down. He's ready to announce his next project now -- Tennessee's first hospice retreat center nestled in the Smokey Mountains.

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