GIA’s ‘Free Screening Colonoscopy Day’ provides lifesaving care to East Tennessee

A team of medical specialists worked in clockwork precision at Gastrointestinal Associates on March 28 to provide free, and potentially lifesaving, screening colonoscopies to 42 patients in the program’s sixth year of helping the East Tennessee community.

Free Screening Colonoscopy Day now has provided approximately 300 patients with the most-effective method to help prevent colon cancer or catch it in the early stages.

“This day would not be possible without the dedicated staff who started work at dawn and stayed to make sure all of our patients were treated with the utmost care,” said Dr. Bergein “Gene” Overholt, co-founder of Gastrointestinal Associates (GIA). “Screening colonoscopies save lives. Early detection saves lives. We are proud to lead this annual initiative to improve the health of East Tennesseans.”

Some 55 physicians, anesthesia personnel, pathologists, nurses and support staff volunteered their time and expertise to make the 2015 event another successful Free Screening Colonoscopy Day.

Those who received the screenings were referred to GIA by the InterFaith Health Clinic, The Free Medical Clinic of America in Knoxville and primary care physicians. The patients were uninsured and could not afford the test. Any polyps discovered during the colonoscopies were removed and sent for pathology examination.

Typically, about 50 percent of those who undergo the diagnostic procedure on Free Screening Colonoscopy Day have polyps, the abnormal cell growths that can develop into colon cancer. This year, 57% of patients had polyps removed.

Several patients shared appreciation for the staff who assisted them at The Endoscopy Center.

“We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise, so this gave us peace of mind,” said Archie Brown from Harrogate. “We couldn’t have asked for any better care from the staff. They were joking with me and making me feel comfortable.”

James T. Catlett from Maryville echoed the feeling of gratitude, saying, “Both of my parents died of cancer, and it runs in my family. Anything I can do to prevent it or get more knowledge, I will. But I don’t have insurance and knew I needed this procedure.

“This was a tremendous help. I know they do a good job, and they’re friendly people. The only thing they wouldn’t do for me today is wash my truck!”

The event not only leads to beneficial care for the screened patients but also raises awareness about preventing colorectal cancer, the second-deadliest cancer.

Overholt noted that colon cancer can be treated and cured in the great majority of cases if it is detected early. Free Screening Colonoscopy Day is another opportunity to remind the public to get screened.

“We have had remarkable success with driving down the death rate from colon cancer,” Overholt said. “A big part of the reason for that has been regular screening and removal of benign polyps before they develop into colon cancer.”

It is recommended that patients have their first colonoscopy at age 50, since nine of 10 colon cancer diagnoses occur after that age. However, those with higher risk of colorectal cancer, such as a family history or chronic gastrointestinal maladies, may need to begin screening at 40, and the recommended age for African Americans is 45.

Husband and wife duo James and Cotia Harris of South Knoxville both received a screening colonoscopy through the event and said they would encourage other families to get preventive screenings.

“Everyone was great and helpful, and they told us just what to expect,” Cotia Harris said.

“I’ve been needing to get this done for a while,” James Harris added. “And it really wasn’t that hard.”

Screening Colonoscopy Day 2015 sponsors included: American Cancer Society, Anesthesia Associates of Knoxville, Boston Scientific, Braintree Laboratories, The Endoscopy Center, The Free Medical Clinic of America in Knoxville, InterFaith Health Clinic and Premier Surgical Associates.

Premier Surgical Associates also provides any follow-up surgical procedures, if needed, for patients screened Saturday.


About Gastrointestinal Associates:

Gastrointestinal Associates is one of the Southeast’s leading GI practices and is the only GI practice in Knoxville that operates three licensed and certified endoscopic ambulatory surgery centers in the north, central and west areas of Knoxville and Knox County. For more information, visit