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A global investment

Resident alum’s gift starts endowment for international outreach

Before an old army acquaintance asked him to volunteer his medical services abroad, Philip Gardner, M.D., hadn’t given much thought to doing international humanitarian work. But because of his friend’s request, Gardner traveled to Guatemala in 1994. And he’s been hooked ever since on helping others in developing countries.

An alumnus of the Department of Ophthalmology’s residency program, Gardner has taken about 10 two-week volunteer trips to Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala, over the last decade. He joins a team of volun- teer surgeons from the United States and Canada, performing procedures that are generally not available to many people in third-world countries.

“Great personal satisfaction comes from saving a child from a lifetime of blindness or from restoring sight to a blind person,” says Gardner, who is now in private practice in Alameda, California.

Hoping to spread that feeling of good will, Gardner recently made a $100,000 stock gift for an endowment to encourage University of Minnesota Department of Ophthalmology faculty and alumni to provide eye care to impoverished people abroad.

The fund should generate about $4,500 per year to offset volunteers’ travel and supply expenses. Usually doctors who make these trips donate their service and finance their own travel and lodging.

Erick Bothun, M.D., is one of several Department of Ophthalmology faculty members who’s done just that. An assistant professor of pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus service, Bothun has volunteered in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan. He admits that these trips often demand significant sacrifices of both time and money.

“The gifts of serving internationally are immense for both patients in need and providers,” Bothun says. “This fund will help prompt and equip us to serve all over the world and share the expertise and quality of care that we sometimes take for granted here in Minnesota.”

Gardner, who has worked at Hospital de la Familia in Nuevo Progreso on all of his trips, says nearly half of the hospital’s patients are financially destitute, so they pay only a small fee or sometimes nothing for the services they receive. Indigent people come to the hospital from all over Guatemala, as well as from Honduras and Mexico. “It’s not unusual to see 60 to 70 patients in one day,” he says.

It takes a special type of doctor to provide eye care in third-world countries, Gardner says. “You need to be flexible because it is common to have instruments that are broken or don’t work. You need to be skilled and comfortable as a surgeon because you are operating on people with advanced disease.”

The long days and hard work are well worth it, Gardner concludes. “These trips are among the best experiences I have had in my career as a doctor.”

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