year to Ethiopia
Baldy Champ volunteers aid to
By MICHAEL AMES
Express Staff Writer
For Ryan Schmidt, the decision to
commit a year of life to medical volunteerism came easily.
Ask anyone who knows Schmidt to
describe him and the answers will invariably fit into a pattern: Schmidt
is as reliable as they come, a young man who routinely puts others
"He’s the kind of person, one of
the few I know, who I can call for help at any ungodly hour," said
friend and cycling teammate Greg Stock of Ketchum’s Sun Summit.
Ryan Schmidt does his thing
during the Baldy Hill Climb in 2003.
Express photo by Michael Ames
During his last of three years
working in radiology as head of the CAT scan department for St. Luke’s
Wood River Medical Center, Schmidt began to look at overseas volunteer
opportunities. After investigating Doctors Without Borders and the Peace
Corp, among others, he eventually found Adventist Health International
based out of Loma Linda, Calif.
Adventist Health International
runs over 20 hospitals in Africa, India, and the South Pacific. Schmidt
wanted to continue his career in radiology but quickly found that few
third world hospitals possess even the simplest X-ray capabilities.
He eventually decided to devote a
year of his life to improving the conditions in a Gimbie, Ethiopia,
hospital as resident radiologist, adviser and teacher. AHI recently
erected an X-ray facility in Gimbie that is one of the most advanced in
the country. Even so, Schmidt and the four doctors on staff--two
Ethiopian, one Dutch and one Filipino--are still hand-developing X-ray
film with chemical baths, a procedure that was phased out of American
medicine 25 to 20 years ago.
In a recent e-mail, Schmidt
described the "mostly chest X-rays with lots of TB and other
abnormalities" he sees on a daily basis. The main health problems in
Gimbie are life-threatening illnesses: tuberculosis, AIDS HIV, malaria,
typhoid fever, meningitis and malnutrition. He has many sobering tales.
A recent patient was an underfed, 2-year-old boy with a distended
stomach. The boy wore "a blank stare of zero hope in his life; his
mother shared the same facial expression," Schmidt wrote.
Gimbie’s population "is around
35,000 people. It seems much smaller. The homes are made out of mud
walls and cow dung," said Schmidt. He described that though some homes
have electricity, most do not have running water. The town is in Western
Ethiopia, about 120 miles from the Sudan border and sits at 7,000 feet,
which keeps it cool despite its equatorial setting.
Schmidt was struck by the idea of
working in Africa after reading Tracy Kidder’s "Mountains Beyond
Mountains" about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work with infectious diseases in
Haiti, Siberia and Africa. Juli Miller, a friend from Schmidt’s Seventh
Day Adventist Church, lent him Kidder’s book, along with Philip Yancey’s
faith-based "Soul Survivor." Miller recalls Schmidt staying up all night
reading Yancey’s book and suddenly asking himself "what can I do" and
"where can I go."
Miller also recalled, as most who
know Schmidt will attest, that "when he wasn’t sleeping or working, he
was running or hiking or biking or skiing."
Beyond his work schedule in Gimbie,
Schmidt has been finding time to devote to his other religion: exercise.
An avid outdoorsman and athlete, Schmidt is the two-time defending Baldy
Hill Climb Champion. His 2003 winning time was 36 minutes, 28 seconds.
For those back home worried about his exercise program, Schmidt said to
"rest assured that everyday I go biking or running." His new running
partner is a 6-month-old dog named Jeff. "Jeff is absolutely terrified
of cows … will run in the opposite direction upon even smelling a cow,"
Though Schmidt has made a huge
sacrifice by living in a Third World nation for a year, his rigorous
exercise schedule has not suffered. A nationally ranked long distance
runner in college, Schmidt moved to Ketchum from a small town outside
Casper, Wyoming and soon made a name for himself as a serious athlete.
Beyond the exceptional feat of winning back-to-back Baldy Hill Climbs,
Schmidt has raced on the Sun Summit Road Team.
"He sets goals for himself … and
he accomplishes his goals," said Mike Gurr of St. Luke’s Radiology, who
is impressed by Schmidt’s volunteerism. "That’s why he chose this
opportunity to go to Ethiopia. He could have an effect on lives there.
It’s not something he had to do. It’s something he chose to do and
that’s rare … that kind of commitment."
Co-workers at St. Luke’s, inspired
by Schmidt are now committed to helping the Gimbie hospital staff by
buying them a portable X-ray machine. The device runs about $12,000 and
a garage sale and fundraising event will be held in May.