Merlene Smith-Sotillo stood in the hot sun at Eisenhower Park Sunday, the bold, red letters on her shirt sending the day's message: "Health is Power."
Smith-Sotillo, president of the Sickle Cell Awareness Foundation Corp. Intl., was one of about 60 sponsors at Nassau County's third annual Health, Fitness and Sports Expo, which drew nearly 4,000 visitors to Kite Field to learn about the health resources available to residents.
Smith-Sotillo, 63, started the foundation with her son, who died three years ago from sickle cell disease at 30. She has made it her mission to educate others about the inherited disorder.
"The biggest challenge is that people are in denial," Smith-Sotillo said. "Even if they have the trait, they don't want to talk about it."
Outside a Winthrop-University Hospital mobile unit at the event, registered nurses conducted blood pressure exams and checked participants' body mass indexes.
Maxine Bushay-Clark, 56, of Hempstead, took a blood pressure test at the hospital's station. She said although her family doesn't have a history of heart disease, she carefully watches her diet.
"Most of the time I prepare my own food, I prepare my own juice," Bushay-Clark said. "I figure if I prepare my own food, I put enough nutrition in it. It's not too fatty, it's not too greasy."
Maureen Tully, the nurse manager of Winthrop Women's Wellness, talked to visitors about proper birth control.
She said people who are scared of medical services because of potential legal consequences such as deportation shouldn't be dissuaded from seeking medical care.
"Even if you are uninsured or undocumented, you still have a place to go to get proper health care that Winthrop provides for our underserved communities," she said.
Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, commissioner of the county's health department, said some residents might face trouble accessing health resources because they don't know they exist or are too intimidated to get help.
"We're not asking anybody for their life history or passport here," Eisenstein said. "Everybody who comes here is welcome, and we're trying to gain trust that the health department is here for everybody and to do the right thing."