A Special Auction

Amishman & Son

My favorite day of the year is always the Third Saturday of September: Auction Day! On this day, every year for the past 23 years, the Amish and Mennonite communities of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania have held a spectacular benefit auction for my parents’ non-profit medical clinic, the Clinic For Special Children.

The Clinic For Special Children was founded in 1989 by my parents, Holmes and Caroline Morton, to care for Amish and Mennonite children with rare genetic disorders. When I was seven years old, the Clinic’s traditional post and beam building was built by volunteers in the style and spirit of an Amish barn raising well off a country road, on the edge of a donated cornfield, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Home sweet home: Strasburg, Pennsylvania

Most of my childhood was spent at the Clinic, playing in the lab, in the halls, in the surrounding fields and woods. Throughout college, I worked in the Clinic’s busy lab, running a gene sequencer, searching for the elusive single point gene mutations underlying the rare genetic diseases that affect the Plain people.

The Amish are especially susceptible to genetic disorders because of their small gene pool. Everybody in the modern Amish community is descended from a dozen couples that first came to America from northern Europe in the 1700’s. In genetics, this is known as a population bottleneck. The common misconception is that inbreeding is the cause, but in such a limited gene pool, even if two people aren’t first cousins (a union frowned upon in the Amish church) they are still genetically very closely related, greatly increasing the chances that carriers of rare, recessive gene mutations will meet, marry and have children.

Mennonite girls & miniature ponies

To date, the Clinic has defined 108 different genetic disorders within the Amish and Mennonite communities. Most of these disorders are also found the general population, whom the Amish call “the English,” but at a much lower frequency. For example, one recessive metabolic disorder known as glutaric aciduria occurs in 1 in 200,000 “English” births; in the Amish it’s 1 in 200.

Some people see a stark contrast between modern medicine and Plain culture and I can attest that running a gene sequencer while watching our neighbor plow his field with a team of mules outside my window was a surreal experience. But the Clinic exists because of the Plain people and their beliefs, not in spite of them. The Amish are practical people who demand practical medicine and the Clinic specializes in delivering cutting edge, efficient, personalized, affordable medicine. The Clinic is a microcosm of what healthcare can be and should be.

Horse & Buggies

Clinic costs are extremely low because almost everything is done in house: genetic testing, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms, amino acid levels, blood and urine tests. A third of the Clinic’s budget comes from modest patient fees, a third from donations and a third from the auction.

The Amish self-insure through a program they call “Amish Aid”. Families pay bills out of pocket, in cash. When a sick child has to be admitted to a major medical hospital and the family cannot cover the bill, a collection plate is passed around at church and every family donates as much as they can.

Blue Bonnet Girls

The annual benefit auction is an astonishing community-wide version of Amish-Aid. Everything is donated: handmade quilts, farm equipment, furniture, toys, ponies, buggies and harnesses, food, services; there are too many items to list. The sheer scale of the auction is probably best conveyed in the amount of food: in 2010, 15,000 donuts, 3,000 pounds of BBQ chicken, 2,3000 subs, and 500 gallons of ice cream all sold out before 2 o’clock. In this one incredible day, tens of thousands of Plain people and English supporters turn out and raise a third of the Clinic’s annual operating budget. This is community supported medicine at its best.

Amish boys & auction quilt

This will be my 22nd auction; I’ve lived all over the country and have only ever missed one. No matter where I am, I always come home to witness this outpouring of support for my parents’ work. For my family, this day is much more important than Christmas.

My parents have given so much of themselves to the Clinic. Every year on auction day the community gives back. Because of this day, thousands of children have suffered less and led longer and more fulfilling lives. My parents are heroes of medicine and on this day, as every other, I am tremendously proud of them.

Dr. Morton’s speech at last year’s auction

Click here to read more about the Clinic and here to see more photos from last year’s auction. My booklet, Plain Genetics, about genomic medicine at the Clinic can be purchased here. All proceeds go to the Clinic. The auction will be held this Saturday from 8 to 4 at the Leola Produce Auction grounds in Leola, Pennsylvania. Donations to the Clinic can be made at www.clinicforspecialchildren.org.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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23 Responses to A Special Auction

  1. Scott says:

    Wow! What a neat thing your parents and community has done for these people. 🙂

  2. Brian says:

    How awesome is your family!

    Great blog, too. Really enjoy it.

  3. Reblogged this on Travel. Garden. Eat. and commented:
    Do you live in the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania? Wish I lived closer in order to attend the annual benefit auction on September 15 that includes handcrafted Amish goods. The auction is held to raise funds for the Clinic for Special Children. You can read more about this unique clinic serving the Amish and Mennonite communities in this post from Travels with the Blonde Coyote (and don’t miss the great photos!).
    Ciao! ~ Kat B.

  4. I hope it was OK that I reblogged your post and shared it on my Facebook page — if not, just please let me know! Great illustration of defying traditional healthcare models and coming together as a community.

  5. thank’s to you and your famity, for making usa a great place to live. wish we had more like your famity in the world !!. kindness will win over war’s ever time, peace .your fan gary

  6. Donna says:

    We can see why you are the special person that you are today. You were raised by very special people. Will put your parents clinic on the top of my Christmas donation list!

  7. Allan Williams says:

    Wow. What a breath of fresh air! What a beautiful solution to our current medical care dilemma. You can certainly be proud of your family “genes”

  8. Everything about this story is absolutely amazing ! I’m just two hours away…this may just tempt me to head north for the auction and a fantastic cause.

  9. Gunta says:

    I read about your family’s clinic quite some time ago and I admire them and what they’re doing so much!

  10. Thanks everybody for all the lovely comments! 🙂 M

  11. Joni says:

    You and your family are awe inspiring. You live life to the fullest and help others along the way.
    Take care,
    Joni

  12. That kind of community spirit working together for the good of all is what all of our relationships with others should be. What a wonderful world it could be – not that we have to ignore technology, but to use it along with the hands-on-creativity and connection to the land that we see in the Amish and some of the other communities of like nature. Carol

  13. kzackuslheureux says:

    No wonder you are so amazing! I will facebook this so my Pennsylvanian family can learn more. I so wish I wasn’t in Edmonton and could attend such an auction, I’m sure I’d never forget it! Perhaps someday. Best to you and your folks and clinic

  14. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Mary, Your parents are doing such wonderful work for these children and so good that you also help whenever you can. Its a lifetime commitment which deserves honor indeed.Thankyou for telling us all about the parents you are so proud of.

  15. Pingback: A Special Auction: Thank You! « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  16. Reblogged this on Living and Lovin and commented:
    A Re-Blog read and learn some new and wonderful

  17. Wow! Our heart is with you. My sister Kelly has lived most of her life in this area. She is now a missionary in Turkey. ~Jen

  18. Jeff Nguyen Eckert says:

    I grew up in Lancaster County, I am not Mennonite but I have a tremendous respect for the community. I did work at Friendship Community for a number of years.

  19. bionicdee122 says:

    Wow what an awesome family you have. I always wondered what kind of medical care the Amish get. Growing up in Philly you see the Amish at Reading Terminal when they sell their wares, but it makes you wonder about their lives outside of that. I can respect that the way they choose to live their life is the best way in respect to their religion and beliefs. But I’m glad there is modern medicine taking care of the community in such a respectful way.

  20. Pingback: Grand Canyon: Surviving Supai | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

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