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VOL. 126 | NO. 110 | Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Clinic Gives Travelers ‘Passport’ for Safe Trips

By Aisling Maki

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Nurse practitioner Tonya Parson’s mother returned home last year from a Mexican getaway carrying an unwanted souvenir – a parasite that had taken up residence in her liver.

“We’re filling a large gap here in Western Tennessee. And being here allows us to serve the entire region, including Mississippi and Arkansas.”

–Mario Parson
Marketing Director, Passport Health

“At first, we thought it was jetlag,” Parson said. “We thought she was tired from the trip, but it went on and on.”

The healthy, active 60-year-old was constantly plagued by high fevers, weakness and anemia, and although she was treated with blood transfusions and antibiotics, the problem went undiagnosed for months.

It was eventually determined that a parasite acquired during international travel had consumed nearly 80 percent of the woman’s liver, leaving her housebound and with a drain in place for more than three months.

“I started researching how I could have prevented this because I am a clinician,” said Parson, who worked for 12 years in the intensive care unit at Saint Francis Hospital.

“Why didn’t I protect her before she went? Maybe I couldn’t have prevented it, but maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was where she lost months of her life to this illness.”

Her mother made a full recovery, but the experience motivated Parson to do some research, leading her to discover Baltimore-based Passport Health, which claims to be the largest provider of travel medical services in the country.

The original Baltimore location was opened in 1994 by registered nurse Fran Lessans, who had noticed, despite increasing amounts of travel to underdeveloped nations, a lack of comprehensive, readily available travel medical and immunization services.

Parson noticed that despite Memphis being home to a number of corporate headquarters as well as a departure point for missionaries traveling abroad, the city’s nearest Passport Health location was a three-hour drive away in Nashville.

Parson and her husband, Mario, decided to bring those services here, and they recently celebrated the grand opening of the Memphis branch of Passport Health at 4515 Poplar Ave.

In the two months the business has been open, Parson, who leads a staff of four as executive director, said it’s already served clients that include missionaries, physicians, leisure travelers, business travelers, students and military personnel preparing for deployment.

Client travel destinations have included Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Romania.

“We’re filling a large gap here in Western Tennessee,” said Mario Parson, who serves as marketing director for the clinic. “And being here allows us to serve the entire region, including Mississippi and Arkansas.”

And Tonya Parson said although some vaccinations can be obtained at the health department and through primary care physicians, other facilities typically carry neither the breadth of vaccines and medications nor the specialized education component offered by Passport Health.

The company carries all medications in house – and is a certified provider for vaccines such as yellow fever, meningitis, and Hepatitis A and B.

The company said it’s the sole private provider of anthrax vaccine in the U.S and has even been called upon to develop outreach programs to deal with bioterrorism response and military preparedness.

“We don’t just medicate and vaccinate: we educate,” said Parson, explaining that the company accesses electronic medical records updated daily with information from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Immunization Action Coalition.

Passport Health clients are provided with personalized packets containing comprehensive information about the country and specific region to which they’re traveling.

Parson said the company also travels to businesses to educate and vaccinate onsite, and maintains several national contracts with corporations such as Microsoft, UPS and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“Again, it’s hard to believe our area had not been serviced by anybody,” Parson said.

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