When he was a boy, Dr. Thomas L. Young read about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, humanitarian, philosopher and missionary physician, in the Weekly Reader, a newspaper for elementary classrooms.
Schweitzer became his hero.
When Young, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky, says that to interns and residents in the UK College of Medicine, most have no idea who he is talking about. But that hasn't stopped Young from trying to be as much like the man he admires as he can. And it is why, more than a decade ago, he piggybacked with Kentucky Partners of the Americas to travel to Ecuador with five pediatric residents so they might get a broader medical experience.
"That is important," said Young. "It is a global world now. I wanted them to get a feel for what it is like in the world; how we are alike and how we are different."
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From that beginning, Shoulder to Shoulder Ecuador was born. It is now known as Shoulder to Shoulder Global because it plans to expand into other countries.
During the ensuing years, Young took more medical students to Ecuador. But while he and the students gained an appreciation of the needs there, Young doubted they were having much of an effect on the people. He wanted to do something more permanent.
So, he and others held a town meeting with the residents of Santa Domingo to discern what they needed and wanted. The people told him of Carlos Ruiz Burneo, a "borderline shantytown" that was home to 20,000 people without health care, Young said. A structure abandoned by another organization could house a medical clinic.
Five years ago, STSG opened Centro Medico Hombro a Hombro, a year-round clinic staffed by Ecuadorean personnel, including a physician, a dentist, home visitors and support staff. Initial funding was provided by the Cathedral of Christ the King, the Kiwanis Clubs of Santo Domingo and Lexington, and the International Federation of Medical Students' Association, or IFMSA.
Three years before the clinic opened, IFMSA, a non-governmental, non- political organization of medical students throughout the world, began hosting a fund-raiser for the project.
The group will host the Art of Healing, its eighth annual fund-raiser and silent auction for STSG, on Friday.
"It is a tradition," said Amanda Wright, a first-year medical student at UK and president of the local chapter of IFMSA. "It is a really good cause. It is kind of exciting to have this started by a UK physician."
The auction will include about 80 items donated by local and regional artisans, and several international pieces. There will be jewelry, handcrafted items, photographs, paintings, ceramics and Ecuadorean crafts and textiles, Wright said, adding, "There will be a good range of prices suitable for students and faculty."
The public is welcome to bid or to donate to the project. Information about the clinic and refreshments will be available.
Each year, brigades of students and volunteers from each of the six health colleges go to the clinic and other remote regions. Wright, who is studying internal medicine, said she had academic conflicts with the scheduled missions this year but hopes to join one in coming years. "I'm from Chicago and I'm really interested in global health," she said.
In addition to health care students who provide supplemental clinical support, students and faculty from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Agriculture, plus volunteers from the community, travel to Ecuador twice a year. Besides working at the clinic, the students and volunteers travel to a poor agricultural region about an hour away that has no access to health care, Young said.
The indigenous people there, the Tsáchila, or Colorado Indians, speak Spanish and their own language. The men are distinguished by red hair, dyed to ward off yellow fever, Young said. They are a nomadic people, and only a couple of thousand survive.
"We are really happy to provide services for that group," he said. "Some of these indigenous populations have never seen a doctor before."
Shoulder to Shoulder Global was a small idea that grew quickly, Young said.
All thanks to a boy reading the Weekly Reader.