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Dr. Brown and patient

A Leg to Stand On

Stories abound about Christians who do not practice what they preach; about doctors whose main concern is their own well-being and not that of their patients. Of course there is more than a grain of truth in these tales, but they are by no means universal. Many examples are found of good Christians and caring doctors, and this is such a one.

Alice McCarl is a teacher for the Latter-day Saints Charities, an American organization which helps many countries around the world with educational, medical and humanitarian services through expert volunteers. These are usually retired professionals from the above fields who are willing to enlist for a period of 18 months to 2 years, offering their time and paying their own expenses while helping the less-fortunate with facilities and training. The Charities are a subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One day Alice was walking through the campus of Suksasangkroh Welfare School in Mae Rim, a few kilometers from Chiangmai, when she saw a boy walking with an awkward limp. She found that the was the son of a Hmong hill tribe family who hadn't enough money to pay for an artificial limb to ease his plight, his right leg being 9 inches shorter than the left. Alice got in touch with the wife of a doctor in the United States who in turn gave her the name of a doctor in Chiangmai who had in the past donated his services to the needy. Sadly, her request brought no response and her hopes were dashed, for she could not help financially despite the undoubted sincerity of her intentions.

Her husband, Bill, attended a meeting of the SKAL Club of North Thailand. The members of the worldwide Skal movement are top executives in the tourism industry. The guest speaker at the monthly meeting was Dr. Ted Brown of the McKean Hospital in Chiangmai. This hospital was founded, just after the turn of the century, by a Medical Missionary from the United States, after whom the hospital is named. Originally the hospital offered medical care to lepers and was located on an island in the Ping River to provide isolation from the healthy population. Over the years as concepts of Leprosy treatment improved the center developed through the stages of being a leprosy hospital, a leprosy rehabilitation center, and now a general rehabilitation center. It is operated by the Church of Christ in Thailand and now provides therapy for many non-leprosy disabled people in need. After Dr. McKean's death in 1930, the Church of Christ continued his work with lepers, but broadened their sphere of operations to offer aid to the poor and those suffering from limb disorders. Today, Dr. Brown is one of the doctors at the facility which receives voluntary assistance from surgeons and specialists practicing in Chiangmai.

Young Pakron The boy discovered by Alice, whose name is Pakron, was suffering from a surprisingly common condition. Such deformations of the limbs frequently occur during a child's early development in the womb, particularly if the mother suffers from an illness which disrupts normal growth of the fetus. Illness or environmental factors which could damage limb development of the fetus can occur even before the mother realizes she is pregnant. In Pakron's case, the hip, thigh and knee did not develop on the right side. Genetic factors play a part in some cases. Such maladies are evident to medical people by the 8th week.

Pakron's condition is different. It is a genetic problem among the hill tribes, caused by intermarriage in small communities. One orphan girl at Pakron's school has only a vestigial leg on one side, but could walk with a stiff-legged gait thanks to a prosthetic limb.

Knowing Alice's concern, Bill asked Dr. Brown if the McKean team could assist Pakron, and he agreed to examine him free of charge. Ted Brown's thorough examination showed that while Pakron was perfectly healthy, providing him with a prosthetic limb to balance his gait would, in his opinion greatly improve his life. After all, he said, "It makes Pakron special. How many humans run around on three feet".

Dr. Brown's unpaid assistance, and Alice's persistence in finding anonymous donors to help pay for his artificial limb, have allowed Pakron to walk almost normally. The boy is happy. Those who have selflessly helped him are happy and his parents, shy of strangers, are happy too. So much so that they requested the school authorities to express the family's gratitude to those involved. A story with a happy ending indeed, and a display of Christian ethics and selflessness of the highest order, but such things are normal practice for Dr.Brown and the McKean Rehabilitation Centre.

Dr. Ted Brown grew up on the west coast of the United States. During his time at the University of California, he met many people from diverse cultures and a wide range of backgrounds, and this stimulated his lifelong interest in travel and foreign languages. He was drawn towards medicine, his father's profession, for all the right reasons and graduated from the University of California before entering Harvard Medical School.

At Harvard, his dream of working overseas continued to tug at him and his essentially romantic nature pictured him running a clinic out of a tent in a remote community. He felt this was what medicine was really about rather than the high technology and world famous specialists that surrounded him in Boston. He specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation, with its emphasis on initiative, training and teamwork, to give the extra support that the disabled need to cope with the extra difficulty of every action.

During his residency in Seattle, he visited Thailand several times both on holiday and to carry out research on leprosy. He often visited the McKean Rehabilitation Centre, and this historic and remarkable institution became both his home and employer in 1993, when he packed his bags with goniometers, reflex hammers and all his other medical paraphernalia and headed for Chiangmai.

Leprosy care remains an essential service provided by the McKean Rehabilitation Centre, but those with strokes, spinal cord injuries and traumatic amputations also receive care and rehabilitation there. The new rehabilitation building, which has been operational for 5 years, has provided much needed extra space for physical and occupational therapy, manufacture of prosthetic devices and an extra 89 beds. The building has been designed and constructed with the disabled in mind from major work such as doorway sizes to fine details such as bathroom fittings.

Now that they have the building and fitments that they need to provide comprehensive rehabilitation, Dr.Brown must create a team of staff with the knowledge and dedication needed to help their patients to help themselves and this is his major task right now. He derives great satisfaction from seeing a patient walking home unaided. This, he says, is reward enough.

Dr.Brown found the under-served community of his former dreams. He does not live in a tent, but in a cottage built on stilts. He believes the Thai people have been wonderfully kind and generous to him and he is happy and honored to work with them and for them. Surely those who have benefited from Ted Brown's ministrations return those sentiments in full.

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