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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday — April 23, 2004


Schmidt gives
year to Ethiopia

Baldy Champ volunteers aid to Africa

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 before himself.

"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," he said.

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.


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