Every visit to FAME becomes more a part of my life and no longer seems like a trip. I have two homes now and I am merely traveling between them twice a year. I don’t want anyone to think it’s become routine for me, though, for it hasn’t as each time I board my flight to travel to either of my homes there is that sense of regret in leaving one and the anticipation of returning to those I know and love on the other end. It really is a wonderful feeling, to have two lives that are so intertwined yet separate and I am constantly grateful that I have been given this incredible opportunity at this stage of my life and career. I pinch myself every day when I think about it to make sure that I am not dreaming.
As I begin this blog, we haven’t even left US airspace yet as we’re somewhere off the far end of Long Island, with the Hamptons below us and life ongoing as it does every day. I am making my seventeenth trip to Tanzania including the very first to take my kids on safari. The remaining sixteen have been to FAME to bring neurology to a region where there are no neurologists. And what a journey it has been for me. It has been an amazing immersion into the world of global health, international medicine and the culture of Tanzania and East Africa. And along with the fantastic company of all of the residents, fellows, faculty and staff who have also accompanied me this program has grown to become a part of our lives for so many.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in an activity that was equally as meaningful and powerful for me as any of my trips to Tanzania. The MS Bike Ride that raises money for MS research and services and travels from Philadelphia to Ocean City, NJ, has taken place for many years now and I had always wanted to ride it with many of my colleagues. Last year, I had planned to, but developed labrynthitis and a subsequent DVT in late summer that required me to be on blood thinners and didn’t allow me to train like I had planned. It didn’t, of course, prevent me from traveling to Tanzania last October fully anticoagulated, but that’s another story. So this year, I was determined to make another attempt. Having never really owned or ridden a true road bike and knowing very little about the ins and outs, I relied heavily on the knowledge of a number of my colleagues to help me find the right bike, acquire the right equipment and then begin to train. I began to ride on weekends and on evenings during the week, sometimes alone and often with our residents or fellows. My mileage increased on a regular basis and with the encouragement of my main training buddy, Kelley Humbert, I was able to tackle 50-70 mile rides out and back from Center City along the Schuylkill Trail to Valley Forge or Phoenixville.
The MS City to Shore bike ride is a 100 mile ride that is thankfully flat for all but the last mile over the bridge into Ocean City and is broken up every fifteen miles or so with rest stops to refill your bottles or backpacks and take on nutrition. There were 6,000 riders in all this year with Penn having the largest team of nearly 400. We had a smaller group of 15 riders that stuck together for the entire ride, stopping at every rest stop together and regrouping as we went along. Many of us were often riding in pace lines, one rider leading and pulling along the others until he was drained and would go to the back of the line. Doing this, we were mostly cruising at speeds of 20-22 mph, often reaching 25 mph. Visions of the Tour de France enter your head for a brief moment until you realize that we’re probably riding at just over half the speed they do on the flats and probably the same as what they do going uphill! I’ll stick with the City to Shore.
We all made it to the finish line together to receive our medals and to be congratulated by all the volunteers there including an old patient of Greg Cooper’s who I hadn’t seen in years and gave me my medal. The Bike Ride raised over 6 million dollars and is the second largest fundraiser for MS in the world. We all stayed in Ocean City that night and were fed the most amazing meal by Julie Suter’s Grandparents, Bob and Mary Anne Suter, who were such incredible hosts for near 20 of us including friends and spouses who hadn’t ridden. I returned home the following morning by bus, while several of the group rode the additional 80 miles home and the remainder spent a beautiful day on the beach in Ocean City.
For Kelley Humbert and Laurita Mainardi, though, there were other things on their minds during the ride. They are both Puerto Rican and their families back home were, at that very moment, dealing with the horrible devastation of hurricane Maria that had made a direct hit on the island, denuding the forests, destroying homes and bringing the infrastructure of an already crippled economy to it’s knees and even worse. These US citizens were left without water, food, power, gasoline, health or even a means to reliably communicate with their families on the mainland. It has now been a week following this massive destruction of the entire island and we are little closer to providing the support and rescue efforts deserving of our fellow countrymen and women. This travesty has played out before our eyes and so little to date has been done to correct it by our current administration when it should only require a fraction of our resources to go in and provide support.
Kelley and Laurita are providing one mechanism for each of us to contribute something towards this cause, though, by creating a GoFundMe site to raise money for Puerto Rico. They have created a metric century bike ride to benefit Puerto Rico to which anyone can contribute whether you intent to ride or not. The ride is in late October, so I will not be able to participate, but I have contributed as it is a worthy cause and no one should delay in checking it out and giving whatever you can at this time.
So I will be arriving into Doha in about ten hours and catching my next flight for Kilimanjaro, arriving there on Sunday afternoon. I am looking forward to visiting with my Tanzanian family for a few days before the residents arrive on Tuesday. Neena Cherayil, Whitley Aamodt and Sara Fridinger will be accompanying me at FAME for this visit and I’m looking forward to introducing them to the amazing clinic that is FAME Medical, to the wonderful people of Tanzania and to my other home that I have so come to love over the last eight years.