Columbians on the front line of offering aid

Adam Beckett is somebody who thinks you should put your ideals into action. So when he finished his residency in emergency medicine and looked at the staggering needs around the world, he was ready to go. But he soon learned that many established medical relief programs aren’t always a good fit with the realities and resources of skilled volunteers.

“Many organizations wanted a commitment of six months to a year, and I simply could not do that,” said Beckett, an adjunct professor of emergency medicine and part-time emergency doctor with the University of Missouri and Women’s and Children’s Hospitals, as well as a “fill-in” emergency medicine doctor in Texas, too.

After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Beckett went on several short emergency relief trips with established aid organizations, “but it seemed as if there was a lack of centralized information for people to learn where and how to volunteer and what kind of help was most needed.”

So Beckett — oldest of “the four Beckett brothers,” a Rock Bridge High School graduate and former Marine — set out to fill that gap. With the help of family and friends, an all-volunteer board and growing number of followers, Beckett created Global First Responder (GFR).

Since its inception, GFR has organized about 25 medical aid trips, typically no more than 7-10 days long. Its website also is evolving into a centralized hub, connecting health care workers and other interested volunteers with information about world medical relief agencies and opportunities. Volunteers also can share stories and information and ask questions, too.

GFR nimbly brings together multi-faceted teams to complement the work of other agencies “on the ground.” In Haiti, for instance, GFR has partnered with Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health and the Osapo Foundation among others to provide basic health care and health care education — most recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Other teams have assembled recently to bring basic medical care to refugees in Greece and Calais, France. Well before arriving, GFR has mapped out care and teaching goals with partner agencies or contacts on location.

“We work all during the day and then go out in the evening to teach classes to the medical personnel advanced cardiac life support, neonatal resuscitation, ventilator management, basic care of newborns, care of the trauma patient. Other skilled workers — electricians, carpenters, IT — partner up with villagers. We cater to what the community says it needs.”

In August, for instance, 14 volunteers across disciplines put in an intensive week at an outlying hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, offering health education; installing toxic waste and microbial waste disposal systems, and upgrading Wi-Fi service, as well as installing solar panels on the hospital roof to provide lights in the operating room.

“Before that, the surgeons had to use the light from their cell phones to see while operating at night,” Beckett says.

Many volunteers and several board members are from Columbia, though, “We are starting to branch out and have volunteers from other states and Canada now,” Beckett said. Donations are used to purchase as much of the non-medical equipment and supplies in the countries. Volunteers fund or “crowd-fund” their own trips.

Though not under GFR’s auspices, Beckett has approached MU School of Medicine representatives about establishing an international medicine rotation or program.

“We’re all in this world together,” Beckett says. “Service to others is just the right thing to do. I don’t think there’s any higher purpose — getting out in the field and improving people’s lives. We’re blessed with a lot back here and it’s time to pay it forward.”

More Information at globalfirstresponder.com