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For more than 20 years there has been a silent killer lurking in our Statehouse. This killer has ravished our community and communities like ours -- communities that are burdened with diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Each of these conditions is a public health crisis and the triad collectively is destroying families, stressing the health care system and economically handicapping our way of life. But our existence is not as dire as it sounds. There is a way out.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Diabetes, heart disease and obesity all have one thing in common; the foot.

Podiatry is the branch of medicine that focuses on the medical and surgical treatment of the foot, ankle and related structures. But not in South Carolina! Forty-six other states allow podiatrists to practice to the full extent of their training -- which entails four years of undergraduate education, four years of podiatric medical school and three years of residency in foot and ankle medicine and surgery.

South Carolina states that podiatrists can only work on the foot. That’s like telling a hand surgeon he can treat the hand but not the wrist. This makes no sense!

The medical impact of foot and ankle care is well documented and this is why endocrinologists, nephrologists, primary care physicians, vascular surgeons and many other medical specialists refer their patients to podiatrists.

How does this really affect home? Consider this, a diabetic patient goes into a podiatry office with an open sore on his ankle. The podiatrist must send that person back to his family doctor so that he can be referred to an orthopedic doctor. This delay in care causes the patient to lose his leg due to infection. Seriously!

South Carolina, and Orangeburg specifically, has one of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the nation. This is a situation where the needs of the community far exceed the resources within the community. But it does not have to be this way.

If our state legislature would update an antiquated podiatry bill (1976), more skilled podiatrists would enter our state and those within our state would be able to provide the necessary care to an increasing population of South Carolinians. Orangeburg, we are not alone, but our needs are greater than most.

We must act swiftly, confidently, and with the urgency that our way of life depends on it. All we must do is demand our elected officials to act and act now. Save a limb and save a life!

History taught us that Rosa Parks changed the world because her feet hurt. Our hurting feet can change our government, change our community and better our way of life. Currently, bill H 3622 addresses improved access to foot and ankle care for all, but especially for nearly 600,000 diabetic citizens.

Don’t allow money politics to deny us the access to care we rightfully deserve. Our state hurts, our Orangeburg hurts, our feet hurt!

Dr. Kevin Ray -- a Charleston native and South Carolina State University graduate -- is an Orangeburg podiatrist.

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