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Local Doctor Finishes Walk Across America For Patient And Caregiver Safety


Local medical executive and baseball fan Dr. David Mayer has finished his yearlong walk across America, visiting many of the country’s Major League Ballparks on the way. 


He made the journey to raise awareness of preventable medical harm to patients and caregivers, the nation’s third leading cause of death.  

Inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, where Tom Hanks’ character runs across America, Mayer planned to walk to all 30 of the country’s Major League Ballparks. 

“I go, I can't run anymore. I'm 67-years-old and my knees are pretty shot, but I could walk,” he told WYPR last summer. 

He started his walk from Petco Park in San Diego last February. By July he made it to Camden Yards in Baltimore. 

“Baltimore has been very special. I've lived here the last 10 years of my life,” he said. “I’m an Orioles fan too. I'm wearing an Orioles jersey.” 


He called the Orioles his second favorite team, after the Chicago Cubs. 

In the end, Mayer could not make it to all of the parks due to travel restrictions, but he visited 20 of them, as well as three minor league stadiums and 20 NFL stadiums. He had walked 2,452 miles. Mayer officially wrapped up his walk at Jacksonville Beach in Florida this February. 

Mayer, the executive director of the MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety in Columbia, Maryland, is also the CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation. The group’s goal: for there to be zero medical error related deaths in the U.S. by 2030. 

“People would reach out and say, I want to walk with you, I want to walk because I lost a loved one I've got a friend that I know died from preventable medical harm, or they were a caregiver, they say I see this every day, and I see the medical errors, so I want to support you,” he told WYPR, calling from Arizona last week. 

Among those who walked with Mayer was Carole Hemmelgarn, a patient safety advocate from Denver, Co. 

She walked in memory of her nine-year old daughter, Alyssa, who passed away in 2007 from multiple medical errors - just ten days after being diagnosed with leukemia. 

“It also gave me time to reflect and think about things that I can help other patients and families do to be safer when they go in to receive health care,” Hemmelgarn said. 

For Hemmelgarn, it was also an opportunity for healing.

“You built new relationships, there was laughter, there were tears,” she said.  “And at the end, we're chugging down water and there's laughter. But you know there's a purpose of why we were doing this. 

One of the friendships she made was with a physician. As they walked, they spoke to each other about their work. 

“We found this synergy,” she said. “He was like, ‘I've never had the opportunity to ask a patient certain things that I've always wanted to ask.’” 

Hemmelgarn said that sort of communication is key to preventing medical error. 

“Providers need to learn to stop and let us tell or ask more questions. And patients and families need to understand they have a role in their healthcare too that they have a voice and they do need to speak up,” she said. “Providers can't read our minds.”

That verbal communication has become more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, when patients do not always get to have loved ones by their bedside. 

“The psychological part of it, I think has been the hardest,” Hemmelgarn said. “We're gonna see, months and years down the road, the people that did not get to be there with loved ones to say goodbye to help them through this. The mental health aspect of it - I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg.

At the end of their walks, Mayer and those who joined him along the way created memorials out of stones, marked with the names of people they’d lost to medical error. 

On a route through Arizona, they began at Sloan Park, the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, and left three stones there. 

“We finished at Sloan Park 10 days later,” Mayer said. “They were still there.” 

Mayer said he’s not quite finished walking. He’s planning on walking to Washington D.C. this summer to meet congressional leaders. 

“It's the walk across America,” Mayer said. “I'm going to visit a lot of places as I continue walking until we see the urgency that needs to be put behind this.” 

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.
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