Dr. Thom Mayer has always run towards disaster. When planes hit the Pentagon on 9/11 he ran into the chaos to do whatever he could to help. Then, when the Nation’s Capitol was poisoned with Anthrax in the deadliest bioterrorism attack in United States History, he was there saving lives. And now, he’s crossing borders, running towards missile fire and air raids to help the Ukrainian people who are under Russian attack.
Last month, Dr. Mayer, the Medical Director of the NFL Players Association, set off to provide medical services to those suffering in Ukraine. Led by Team Rubicon, a veteran-run organization dedicated to helping people “recover from disasters and humanitarian crises,” his group of 20 nurses, doctors, and logistics coordinators opened their passports and flew to Ukraine where they spent the next three weeks treating almost 350 patients and training over 1,700 Ukrainian medical staffers.
For months they prepared, went through security clearances, and kept it all to themselves for fear of information being leaked to the Russian army, or Chechen bands seeking to take hostages. When they arrived in Ukraine they headed East to offer their medical help to those who had been displaced, now living in makeshift shelters.
In church after church, in train stations, even in the Olympic training facility, all of which had been converted to temporary encampments filled with those fleeing violence. Carrying their medical supplies on their backs, he and his team made “house calls”; going wherever their help was needed. And when the air raids began, they moved their patients down to the bomb shelters and continued to provide medical treatment.
As the only Pediatric Emergency Physician, Mayer found himself helping children first, then the adults. While treating the masses of Internally Displaced Peoples, Mayer said he saw a young boy with an ear infection. After giving him medication, Mayer said goodbye with the Ukrainian phrase “Slava Ukraini”, meaning Glory to Ukraine. The child responded with the customary “Glory to the Heroes”, but added, “Don’t worry about Ukraine, we’ll be just fine.”
In the midst of two to three air raids a night, missiles passing by their window, and hiding in bomb shelters, Mayer says the unbroken spirit of this child and everyone he met was the most remarkable thing about the entire war. Below ground in basements, children were dancing with mothers playing guitars and singing. Night after night, the sirens would sound signifying another air raid, but the Ukrainian people did not let Russia instill terror in them. Instead, Mayer said, these people held tight to their dignity and strength and he found courage in their resilience.
He also mentioned that while his team treated Ukrainians of all ages, they saw just one man of fighting age who stayed behind to care for his mother. All other men of military age were in the East fighting for their freedom. Mayer said three weeks serving the brave Ukrainian people was not enough, and he would return as soon as they would clear him. However, his biggest hope is that there will be no need for his services and the people of Ukraine will be free of the tyranny of terrorism.
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