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Alumnus bikes to raise funds

Lily McGill | Friday, November 2, 2012

Notre Dame alumnus Dr. Michael Heisler biked 630 miles in six days last week to raise more than $63,000 for Hesburgh Hospital, a teaching and research hospital planned in Santo Domingo, Ecuador.

Dr. Heisler’s journey began last weekend in his hometown, Sioux Falls, S.D. From there, he biked for six and a half days to Notre Dame to attend the Andean Health and Development (ADH) board meeting, which will be held this Friday in the Hesburgh Center.

AHD, founded in 1995 by Notre Dame alumnus Dr. David Gaus and chaired by University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, was created to provide self-sustainable, comprehensive health care in poor, rural areas of Latin America. Access to health care in these rural communities is limited. Residents must drive as long as three and half hours on dangerous roads to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito without any guarantee of care.

“When AHD built its first hospital [in Pedro Vicente Maldonado], they were given the advice, ‘When you build a hospital, don’t build something as inexpensively as you can. Don’t waste money, but build a building that has some stature to it, a good building that will last for years,'” Heisler said.

“So they did. The first week the hospital opened, people didn’t come. Nobody could figure it out. So they went out into the community and asked, ‘How come you’re not coming to the hospital? This is our community’s hospital.’ And the people said, ‘We didn’t think it was for us, we thought it was for other people.’ Because they never had a hospital like that before, they never had health care accessible.”

“I got this hair-brained idea one day: Why don’t I just ride my bike over to the board meeting?” Heisler said. “I know it’s kind of crazy, but maybe we can raise some money. I honestly was hoping to raise $40,000 in my wildest imagination.”

In fact, proceeds from “630 in 6 for 63” raised over $70,000, well past the original goal. This money will go towards AHD’s Vision campaign, whose goal is to raise $6 million to build Hesburgh Hospital. The hospital will include a 50-bed hospital, a physician residency facility, a nurse training facility and a global health research center. So far, AHD has raised $3.6 million.

“I think as we got closer and people saw how cold the temperatures were, they started to feel sorry for me,” Heisler said.

AHD is dedicated to building quality hospitals that address that need and can be sustained and staffed by local Ecuadorians. He also credited the organization’s mission for people’s donations.

“I think what Andean Health is doing is important,” Heisler said. “You can do these kinds of fundraisers, but if you’re not raising funds for something that makes sense to people, nobody’s going to contribute.”

“People say to me, ‘Why did you ride 600 miles?’ and ‘Why did you get on your bike and get involved?'” he said. “Well, partially because I’m crazy. But the real reason is, because we try to do work that has some purpose.”