Advocate In Action: LeRoy Graham, M.D.

LeRoy GrahamIf LeRoy Graham, M.D.’s greatest achievements were strictly professional, they would be quite impressive, given his reputation as an outstanding pediatric pulmonologist, his medical school faculty appointments, leadership within medical organizations and even testimony before Congress.

But harnessing the power of volunteers to impact entire communities and improve individual lives? That achievement might be in a different league all together. But for this unassuming physician, his volunteer efforts are not extraordinary. “My drive is simply the Biblical imperative ‘To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected,’ and I have been very blessed throughout my life,” he says.

When he founded Not One More Life, Inc. in Atlanta in 2003, Dr. Graham was focused on finding a way to reduce the negative impact of asthma, particularly among African Americans. Today, his corps of 20-30 volunteers and a small administrative staff have not only screened more than 5,000 people for asthma, but the organization’s model now is being replicated in six cities around the country.

Not One More Life, Inc. is a volunteer advocacy organization consisting of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other health educators who work together in faith-based communities to help reduce the negative impact of asthma. Volunteers and partners believe that by working with health ministries within communities of faith, they can empower the African-American community through education to control asthma. African Americans have one of the highest rates of asthma compared to other racial/ethnic groups—35 percent higher than the rate among Caucasians, for example. Rates may be higher given undiagnosed or under-diagnosed cases.

Approaching individuals through their faith communities establishes a relationship between the program participants and the medical volunteers based in the foundation of trust, which Dr. Graham credits for the success of the programs that launched about five years ago.

Each of the free programs begins with an education session about respiratory disease—primarily about asthma as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), followed by individual screening. All participants are screened by a symptom questionnaire and spirometry. A pulmonologist reviews the results, and each individual then meets with a counselor. The goal is for each individual attending the program to gain the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their health.

“Almost consistently, in all of our programs, about 50 percent of people have some abnormal function or symptoms,” Dr. Graham said.  “We develop a report after each counseling session, to go back to the person’s primary care physician if they have one. If there’s no primary care physician, we try to get them into a pro bono network of doctors or refer them to a free clinic. This has been invaluable to get people into a medical home.”

According to Dr. Graham, approximately 90 percent of people recommended for follow up after the free sessions have seen a physician for a respiratory-focused visit. “The impact has really been impressive!” he said.

Dr. Graham is working to expand Not One More Life to other cities and to extend the organization’s work within Atlanta. “Our goal over the next five years is to have groups actively replicating our model in the top 30 metropolitan service areas in the U.S.,” he said.  The program is already expanding to: Bay Shore, N.Y.; Detroit and Flint, Mich.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; St. Louis, Mo. and Norfolk, Va. “We also hope to have our clinic operating every Saturday in Atlanta.”

Not One More Life is not the only project to which Dr. Graham volunteers his time. He is a long-time spokesperson, Board member and advocate for the American Lung Association in Georgia, working on asthma and air quality issues and having served as medical director of Camp Breathe Easy (asthma camp) for several years. Dr. Graham serves on several non-profit and professional organizations’ Boards as well. His commitment to the community is well recognized. Dr. Graham was named Child Advocate of the Year in 2003 by the Fragile Kids Foundation and in 2004 received the prestigious David Satcher Award presented by the CDC and Directors of Health Promotion and Education. He received the national award, named for the former Surgeon General, for his leadership in reducing health disparities by improving community-based health promotion.