Current and Archived News Stories
By Kimberly Luste Maran
Nervous energy tinged the atmosphere around the half-dozen patients waiting on April 28 for laser tattoo removal at Your Best Pathway to Health LA mega health clinic. Jittery small talk ensued as a diverse group sat lined up next to a small office. The tiny room was outfitted with medial equipment, including a powerful laser wielded by Steven Popkow, board certified family practice doctor — and laser medicine specialist. Registered nurse Mirjana Popkow, his wife and clinic assistant, went over paperwork with each patient. Her smile and gentleness put patients at ease as she prepared them for the removal process.
|Dr. Steven Popkow uses his laser to remove a tattoo from a man's hand at the Pathway to Health LA clinic.
Photo by Tanya Musgrave
“Our hearts are here for helping people, doing good, changing people’s lives. Today was probably one of the most incredible experiences that we’ve had,” says Mirjana. She explains that she and Steven have made tattoo removal a life ministry. They’ve treated the young and the old, men and women, and the skin color spectrum. Those coming from gang backgrounds are especially memorable for Mirjana. “We’ve offered free treatments to gang members, boys, some 16, some even 13, under age. We’ve helped those who come in shackles and orange suits in the hopes of getting gang tattoos removed,” she says. Nodding, and pausing to include those gathered at the clinic, she adds, “These are the experiences that help keep us going.”
The Popkows have been involved in this labor of love for 20 years, and pray they are able to continue. “It costs thousands of dollars to maintain the laser. Everyone has been hit by the economic times, but we are trusting that God can keep us going.”
Jordan Overby, 25, is one patient who is glad that the Popkows brought their laser treatment to the mega clinic. Finished with his removal in the early afternoon, he stopped Mirjana and her bandage for a moment so his tattoo-free skin could be photographed.
Jordan’s roommate told him about the free health care at the Los Angeles Convention Center when he woke up that morning. They hurried down, got in line, and received several services. Jordan got his eyes checked, his hair cut, and his tattoo removed. But for Jordan, it was more than getting the ink out.
“I moved to Virginia at age 14,” says Jordan. “But I was kind of alone. My parents both battled drug addiction.” His had been a Christian home but without parental support and care, Jordan began to lose his faith in Christ. With his spiritual life disintegrating, Jordan carved the tattoo. “I tattooed a crucifix with fire coming from the edges on my left forearm. I did it myself,” he reiterates. “I felt alone — and I didn’t want to believe in God. I was a child and wondered that if Christ was real, why would He let this happen to me?” He was homeless a year later.
|Jordan Overby shows where his tattoo use to be before he got it removed at the LA mega clinic.
Photo by Tanya Musgrave
But Jordan’s life changed dramatically when his high school track coach invited him to move in. Jordan did, spending half his junior year and all his senior year with the coach, until he graduated and went to college. He’s been healing ever since. “I learned forgiveness and discipline,” says Jordan. “I’ve got a spiritual strength now that I didn’t imagine I would have.”
Working with his friends at an artist’s management group, Jordan is also pursuing a career in fashion design—and working on course correction. Part of that was getting rid of the tattoo. “I just wanted to have the tattoo removed and go from there,” he says. “Lately, I’ve been righting wrongs. . . . Sin starts in the heart and its been holding me back in life.
“I didn’t wake up this morning saying I was going to get a tattoo removed but the opportunity presented itself — I got my vision checked and they told me about the tattoo removal. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to right that wrong, to go about my life knowing that I corrected a mistake.”
Steven Popkow, who has helped thousands of people erase mistakes, understands the need to do so. “I like helping people who want to get rid of the past. Standard approach when I was in med school was to cut them out. That’s the kind of barbaric extent people would go to get rid of tattoos.” With laser treatment, it is a much easier and faster removal.
At the mega clinic, the Popkows treated almost 100 patients in two days, doing both nail fungus infection treatment with the laser as well as tattoo removal.
For Steven, removing the ink is “the most dramatic and rewarding. Sometimes a person gets a particular gang insignia or they get a 666 tattoo removed and it relieves their burden. I just feel good to be part of that transition and able to help them in some way.”
The Popkows have run several outreach ministries from different area churches for many years, but most patients are now treated in the office, on a pro bono basis.
|Photo by Tanya Musgrave|
“Most patients I’m treating are amazed that I’m doing it for free, that there’s no government funding, that it’s just me and my laser. . . . they are appreciative and hope that the program continues,” says Steven.
“The patients who are able to pay [for treatment] help subsidize those who aren’t,” explains Steven. “I was able to cover the cost of the equipment and overhead—and spend one day of the week on low cost or free treatments. We moved down to one day every other month. When clinics like this come up, I’ll bring it.”
Concerned with the laser’s age and costs to repair and/or replace it, Steven adds: “We pray that the laser keeps working — and that we can continue to use it to benefit the people who need the services. The people who need it the most have the least money.”
Your Best Pathway to Health provides, medical, dental, eye care, surgery and support services including radiology, laboratory and pharmacy services, plus preventive medicine and legal services, all free of charge.