Since February, local doctor and baseball enthusiast David Mayer has walked through 13 Major League cities, stopping at their ballparks. He’s walking to raise awareness of preventable medical harm to patients and caregivers, the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Saturday, the second day of opening weekend in Major League Baseball’s pandemic shortened season, he walked nine miles through Baltimore to Camden Yards, wearing an Orioles jersey. The Orioles, however, were playing in Boston. Thus far, he’s logged 1,100 miles.
“We're gonna hit all the parks, until I get to what's going to be little under 2600 miles,” he said.
Mayer, who has lived in Baltimore for the last 10 years, is the executive director of the Medstar Institute for Quality and Safety in Columbia, and CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation. He said he was inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, where Tom Hanks’ character runs across America.
“I go, I can't run anymore. I'm 67-years-old and my knees are pretty shot, but I could walk,” he said.
He started walking in Arizona, and stopped in other cities -- Denver, Kansas City, Chicago and Pittsburgh among them -- to walk on his drive back to Maryland. During the walks he’s joined by those who’ve lost loved ones due to preventable medical harm. At the ballparks they hold memorials.
“I've connected with a lot of people I've known that have either lost lives or had their whole life changed tremendously because of medical harm,” he said.
Two of these people are husband and wife Jack and Teresa Gentry, who joined Mayer at Camden Yards on Saturday. He said they are his heroes.
“They turned tragedy into something that's become very powerful and they are helping us across the country,” Mayer said.
Jack has been in a wheelchair since 2013. He was staying overnight at the Medstar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, getting treatment for a ruptured disk in his neck, when an instrument malfunctioned and struck his spinal cord. He ended up staying in the hospital for five months and is now a quadruplegic.
“I said to myself: Jack, you spent a life adapting and overcoming obstacles. This is just another obstacle that you need to adapt and overcome,” Jack said.
He’s been sharing his story ever since, traveling around the country and speaking at medical conferences.
“I made up my mind then that I wanted to do something to make sure this didn't happen to somebody else,” he said.
Jack said that while he was in the ICU, he was inspired by the support of his wife Teresa and his family..
“I have a great family, and a great wife, who stood beside me, day in and day out.” he said.
Teresa says that her husband has motivated others who’ve had similar experiences. He is one of the few people who’ve been able to share his story about surviving medical error.
“Jack actually was quite an inspiration for me with his positive attitude always, his moving forward always, his encouraging other people always,” she said.
The Gentrys are grateful to Jack’s surgeon, saying he took full responsibility for a medical error that was not his fault. They said they want to give other caregivers the space to be transparent about their mistakes.
“Knowing that caregivers also suffer is something people need to recognize. Nobody goes to work trying to commit a medical error,” Teresa said.
Mayer said he is looking forward to World Patient Safety Day on Sept. 17 where he will stream a live program with people like Jack, as well as celebrities, politicians and caregivers. And when that’s over, he’ll continue walking until he gets to Florida.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll walk back to San Diego as long as the hips and knees hold out,” he said.
Dr. Mayer’s next destination is Washington D.C. He’ll walk from Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to Nationals Park in Southeast Washington, where the Nationals will be playing the Toronto Blue Jays.