When you visit your doctor—for a checkup, routine procedure or even an emergency—the process of receiving care is pretty simple: fill out a form, show your ID, then read a magazine until you hear your name called. But for many throughout the world, oceans away or just down the street, getting medical attention is prohibitively difficult and, in many cases, totally impossible.
Now think back to your doctor and consider this: the medical professional who stands in front of you in that crisp, white coat took an oath to help the sick—all the sick. Doctors tend to worry over health care issues more than most and, for many physicians throughout the region, this line of thought leads to action. Many area doctors—too many to list in this feature—spend their scant off-hours providing health care and medical services to underserved populations with needs uncommon to most waiting-room occupants. They do it because it’s just what they do.
Five medical professionals in The 330 utilize their skills in diverse areas of expertise to bring better health to populations where medical services are scarce. These local physicians take their techniques, resources and, above all, hearts of gold to people in need, serving far-flung locales like Haiti, Peru and Ghana as well as assisting the less fortunate right here in the Akron area. Some help globally, then return home to volunteer in their own communities.
Though they don’t seek praise for the community service and philanthropic activities they perform, we should recognize the generous professionals who live among us. These are docs who do good, and they make Akron proud.
Dr. Jeff Kempf
Dr. Jeff Kempf has been an attending physician in Akron Children’s emergency department for 26 years. Recently his work has moved way beyond the emergency room walls.
“ Six years ago the hospital started the Office of Pediatric Global Health,” says Kempf, who serves as its director. “Half of my job is still in the emergency department, half of it is international work.”
Kempf, along with wife Dr. Ellen Kempf, has personally done international work in places like Central America, Kenya and Ethiopia for years, but a trip to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake found his global concerns snapping into focus. “I went and worked with St. Damien as part of that relief work,” he says, “and subsequently started going back.” Kempf established a network of nine North American hospitals to aid the pediatric hospital in Tabarre, Haiti. “We send residents and faculty, supplies, equipment, knowledge and aid to St. Damien to make it what we think is the best children’s hospital in Haiti.”
Kempf’s collaborative provides necessary heart surgeries to Haitian children. “We’ve done eight open heart cases here in Akron over the past four years and have also started a program in Haiti to do surgeries there,” he says, adding that the end goal is a sustainable, Haitian cardiac center. Kempf and his wife regularly host patients in their home for 4-6 weeks while they recover. “I hope they feel loved and a part of our family for that period of time,” he says. He’s currently working on a program to deliver medicines to Haitian sickle cell patients.
“I think to be a doc is service work,” says Kempf. “I am so lucky and so fortunate to do what I do. I feel an obligation to go and do work for others.”
Dr. Charles Fuenning
Dr. Charles Fuenning is a pulmonary and critical care physician in his 30th year of local practice. Though his group, Unity Health Network, operates throughout the region, Fuenning himself is often found at Western Reserve Hospital—that is, when he’s not volunteering to help the underserved.
Fuenning volunteers his time in various ways, but when asked to talk about them, he offers up the work of others. “Mark and Sue Meyer are primary care doctors with the Pioneer Medical Group,” he says. “They have for years gone on mission work around the world, taking health care missions, and realized that there’s just a great need here in our own backyard.” Fuenning himself is very active in the resulting community outreach, known as Faithful Service Care Center. “Consider it urgent care for the underserved population,” he says. “We see patients that come through and they have no health care, no physicians. We act as an emergency room, an urgent care for blood pressure and blood sugar, colds and sprains. And of course we triage and if there’s something more serious, we’ll address that.”
“ I think, if we have the skills, we should be able to help our fellow man, woman and child,” says Dr. Fuenning. “Here’s a great opportunity where we can help our fellow citizens. And it’s not just physicians—we have nurses, medical assistants, front desk people, pharmacists and chaplains. Heck, the guys that painted the walls and supply the food. It’s a real community effort.”
“ I think that there will always be a need in the community for people who have fallen through the cracks,” he says. “They just need help, which is sometimes hard to do in the midst of a private practice or hospital setting.”
Dr. Amelia E. Laing
When we reached out to Dr. Amelia E. Laing, a general obstetrics and gynecology physician at Aultman Hospital, we didn’t find her at the Canton medical facility. Rather, Dr. Laing was in Ghana, doing the work we wanted to know about.
In addition to her professional career here in Northeast Ohio, Laing has established and is highly active in an initiative to improve the lives of women in Ghana. “I’ve established, administer and help provide care at a women’s health-only hospital in Accra, Ghana,” says Laing. The facility, known as the Obaatan Pa Women’s Hospital, is an extension of the Serving Women in Ghana effort. Laing’s vision is largely two-fold: to provide basic women’s care in an area where the lack has too-long resulted in avoidable tragedies, and to support local midwives as they administer care. Another key arm of the project is providing preventative care by administering breast and cervical cancer screenings and giving training to local health teams.
“ I think it is important for physicians to donate their time and skills if they have them to spare,” says Laing. “None of us are completely responsible for our situation in life, and as social beings who live best in cooperation, we all have some responsibility to help others as we can.”
Laing, who also volunteers as a Rotarian in the Orville community, truly believes in the power of helping out whenever possible. “An awareness of a large, unmet need for health care, and a sense of being very fortunate as a couple, with the ability to help make things better for people who have unbelievably difficult lives to begin with, led my husband and myself to do this,” she says. “We have gained much satisfaction from the joy and improvement we have brought others with our efforts.”
Dr. Deborah S. Plate
Dr. Deborah Plate believes strongly in the power of teaching.
A board-certified family physician at Akron General, Plate builds better health through educating both her patients and medical professionals. “As a family physician,” she says, “we take care of not only the whole person, but we do a lot of health prevention.” Mentorship of younger health professionals is crucial, she says. “Role modeling is very important as we produce primary care physicians.”
Not content to limit her reach to patients and doctors, Plate takes good health to the airwaves, delivering health advice to the masses via her weekly radio show, Akron General Health Connection on Cleveland’s News Radio WTAM 1100 AM (Saturday at 7 a.m.). “That has been an amazing experience,” says Plate. “We’re getting information out there that’s accurate and timely with what’s going on in our community. We have great phone calls, great texts.”
Plate also believes strongly in community service. “If we can put out docs that have some sense of social responsibility,” she says, “I think we will achieve a well-rounded physician.” Plate models this social responsibility, staying active in communities far and wide. “Our group is family docs, so we went with a group called Academy of Family Physicians, and we’re affiliated with an international group, Heart to Heart International.” Plate and AAFP oversee international training tracks, sending residents to places such as Guatemala and Peru to teach and provide medical services. “We developed this to provide patient care in small clinics in villages,” she says. “These clinics are ongoing, so we don’t just land there for a week—we land in the midst of a clinic that’s always there. We not only see patients, but we also educate their clinicians. It’s been a win-win for both our residents and for the countries that we visit.” Plate works for the underserved at home too, taking residence at Akron Inc.’s clinic for homeless women and children.
Dr. Dean Mayors
Dr. Dean Mayors is a general surgeon physician with Akron Summa Health Services, specializing in cancer and hernia surgeries. It’s the latter expertise that found him landing halfway around the world back in 2006.
“ There was a chaplain at Akron Children’s Medical Center whom I knew, his name was Patrick Allalah,” says Mayors. “He was a native Ghanian.” Mayors describes a phone call from Allalah as one that changed his life. “He’d always wanted to bring a medical mission back to his native country and needed a surgeon. He called me, right in the middle of busy office hours, I can remember the day, and it took me all of about 10 seconds to say yes.” For Mayors, the call addressed a deep desire that hadn’t yet found an outlet. “You study, go through all the science courses, and you’re lucky enough to get into medical school and a residency, and all the missionary desires kind of get thrown onto the back burner. It’s still something you want to do, but you’re in the process of raising a family, getting married—interests tend to turn otherwise.”
Allalah’s call led Mayors right into the footsteps of his heroes, medical missionaries like Albert Schweitzer and Thomas Dooley, taking his physician skills to help in a poverty-stricken country. “Ghana is a very poor, small country in sub-Saharan, equatorial Africa,” he says. “We basically fulfill their needs, because there is no full-time surgeon there. Hernias are epidemic in that area; chronic wound care is another huge problem.”
His passion for service work is seeing long-term results as well, with his two oldest daughters—both medical professionals—accompanying him on Ghana trips in recent years. “I’m very pleased to see it’s moving on to the next generation and hopefully will continue.”