HOULTON, Maine — As a child, he entertained audiences with his TV antics and now Jerry Mathers is urging audience members past and present to remain active and in good health as they move through adulthood.
More than 20 people visited Houlton Regional Hospital late Monday afternoon to meet American TV icon Mathers, who was the star of the “Leave It To Beaver” sitcom that debuted in 1957 and ran for six seasons. The show is now in syndication.
The former child actor visited Houlton, Presque Isle and Fort Kent during the day as part of the “Help Is Here Express” bus tour.
The bus — which looks like a giant pill bottle on wheels — is touring the country with Mathers, who is now 60 years old. At each stop, Mathers speaks to interested members of the public about the effects of chronic disease.
The “Help is Here Express” assists uninsured and financially struggling people in finding information on programs that provide prescription medicines free or nearly free. The bus tour is part of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a nationwide effort sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies. The partnership aims to raise awareness about patient assistance programs and the need to address the rising rates of chronic disease in the U.S.
Patients also may learn about new medicines that are being developed to fight such diseases as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
“We’ve had an amazing turnout during our trip through Aroostook County today,” Jeff Gilbert, spokesman for the partnership, said during the Houlton stop. “In all of the locations, people have met Jerry and gotten on the bus and we’ve helped them learn more about our program.”
To date, the partnership has helped more than 5 million people across America, including more than 21,000 patients in Maine. Since its launch in April 2005, the partnership’s bus tour has visited all 50 states and more than 2,000 cities to raise awareness about patient assistance programs. The bus has been to Maine four times, but Monday was its first stop in The County.
The bus is staffed by trained specialists able to help uninsured patients quickly gain access to information on more than 475 patient assistance programs, including nearly 200 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.
Mathers is one of the nation’s leading lecturers on living with and dealing with diabetes. Gilbert said Mathers is a “huge magnet” for drawing crowds to the bus during its stops.
“He is with us mainly to raise awareness about chronic diseases, which are a big problem in Maine,” he said. “He draws people of all ages.”
Mathers spent much of his nearly two-hour stop in Houlton autographing mementos and posing with people for pictures. Several hospital employees peeked into the room to “see what the Beaver” looked like as an adult. Others peppered him with questions about the whereabouts of other actors who starred on the show with him.
Judy Cyr visited the hospital to learn more about the partnership’s initiative and said meeting Mathers was an additional treat.
“That was one of my favorite shows when I was growing up as a kid,” the Houlton resident said Monday.
Mathers is scheduled to stop at Nicky’s Diner in Bangor 9-11 a.m. today and then at Simone’s Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston 2-4 p.m.
Patients may visit the partnership’s Web site at www.pparx.org or call 888-4PPA-NOW toll-free, where operators field calls in 150 languages.
Aroostook County residents also may call United Way’s 211 service, Maine’s health and human service information and referral line. The service partnered with the partnership and other health agencies and hospitals in a countywide collaborative launched last spring to increase Aroostook County residents’ access to important prescription drugs. This pilot program with 211 is available now only to residents of Aroostook County.