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Lancaster County clinic treats Amish children with genetic diseases

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STRASBURG, Pa. --  A clinic in Strasburg specializes in treating children with genetic diseases. One group prone to those diseases are the Amish, and the diseases need to be detected early to prevent severe problems.

The Clinic for Special Children was built in 1990 and treats around 200 genetic disorders. Many cause severe disability, illness and untimely death if not treated.

Some examples of those diseases are maple syrup urine disease, glutaric aciduria type I, and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency - or SCID. Children with SCID may look healthy as newborns but ultimately develops infections that can kill them.

Dr. Katie Williams, a pediatrician at the Clinic for Special Children, said, "We can identify those children early, start them on appropriate treatment and keep them from getting chronically ill, or having multiple hospitalizations or going to a center that's just not as familiar with the genetic background and having a very expensive diagnostic work up."

Those diseases are common in the Amish community because the Amish stem from a small founding group of people, and Williams said the clinic in addition to saving lives, saves the local population millions of dollars in medical costs.

"The children stay healthy, they stay out of the hospital, they can go on to be productive adults that have a job and a family of their own. And it's not only better for their quality of life but it saves a lot of money from all those added medical costs."

Only 15 percent of their funds comes from actual billing.

"We charge very little for the services we provide here so that people have affordable care and that's important to us to keep those costs down. But we're able to do that because of all these donations and because of the generous support from the Plains community," she said.

The clinic also negotiated discount programs with hospitals to have affordable health care for the patients.

"I think the clinic is a really, really unique place. I don't think there's any place just like it in the world. And I think it's a great resource for patients in this community who are from a plain background, and don't have health insurance that need good, affordable health care for their children," she said.

Williams said they receive their funds from local community auctions and endowments from universities. They also receive donations from outside parties who appreciate what the clinic is doing.