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Paths: Charles Modlin '83

A Doctor Crusades to Improve Minority Men's Health

"You know, nobody cares about black men." It's a statement Charles Modlin '83 never forgot, coming from his hard-working African-American father.

He remembers many other things his father said -- that the success he's achieved is not merely a reflection of the work he's done but also the community that raised him; that he has a responsibility to use his education to give back to that community.

But it was the comment about the lack of concern for the health of minorities that inspired Modlin to take action.

"I internalized that and studied it to really appreciate that these healthcare disparities exist -- higher rates of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and lower life expectancies, especially in African-American males," said Modlin, who went on to earn his MD at Northwestern and become a kidney transplant surgeon and urologist. "Black men have twice the death rate from prostate cancer."

Modlin saw that minorities struggled against many barriers to adequate health care -- income, education, and lack of access to providers, to name just a few. In response, he founded the Minority Men's Health Center at Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute in 2003. With the goal of eliminating health disparities entirely, the center is open throughout the year and provides care to qualifying patients, as well as community outreach, education and executive health services.

In April, the center hosted its 11th Annual Minority Men's Health Fair. Four hundred volunteers provided free health screenings and information to nearly 3,000 attendees. Until he passed away in 2010 at age 85, Charles Modlin, Sr. stood by his son's side every year.

"He would get quite emotional, seeing all these predominantly African-American men coming in, being empowered to take charge of their own health," he remembers. "It was moving for him to see his son lead an initiative and give back to the community in the way he taught me."

But his father's greatest lesson was the importance of an education. Modlin Sr. had been unable to finish high school after enlisting in the Navy during World War II. To make ends meet, he sometimes had to work three factory jobs. On weekends, he would wash windows and do lawn work as well.

"He always taught me, 'One of the secrets to having a better quality of life is to get an education so you don't have to struggle,'" he says.

Modlin aimed to surpass that goal and ease the struggles of others as well.

"I was so proud and happy to have been able to go to Northwestern," he remembers. "My parents never had those opportunities, and I thought it was my obligation to take full advantage of the opportunities I was given."

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