24-Hour Run Supports Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

The years and the miles are adding up. And there really couldn’t be one without the other. Seventeen years ago, volunteers from Memphis went to Haiti on a short-term mission trip and saw there was a desperate need for health services.

Kendra Maple, right, does pediatric physical therapy in Haiti, where she has been for almost a year. She will be in Memphis next week to attend the Tour d’Esprit 24-hour run.

(Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis)

Fifteen years ago, the first 24-hour Tour d’Esprit was held here to raise money for the cause. Twelve years ago, the Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis opened the Holy Spirit Medical Clinic in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets outside of Port-au-Prince.

One of the founders, Dr. Gordon Kraus, recalls the early days when volunteers would each take 70 pounds worth of medical supplies into Haiti.

“We tried to get the supplies through customs as best we could,” he said. “It became apparent we needed to have a more permanent presence.”

Permanent presence requires funding. That’s where the Tour d’Esprit comes in. The 24-hour walk/run raised about $20,000 its first year. Now, it usually raises in excess of $100,000, Kraus said. This year’s 15th annual Tour d’Esprit is Oct. 4-5 on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Spirit and the adjacent Holmes Park. It’s believed to be the only 24-hour run in Memphis and is for beginners (or walkers) to ultra-marathoners.

Kraus, who is retired, was once a marathon runner and used to run in that very area: “It’s a perfect venue for a one-mile loop.”

Back in 2007 Kevin Dorsey set the course record by covering 120 miles in just less than 24 hours. The team record is 242 miles. Teams may have as few as eight members and as many as 24. This year’s event starts at 3 p.m. on Oct. 4. Runners wear a computer chip to record each mile completed.

And yes, the course is lighted. And yes, there is security.

“On hand at all times,” Kraus said.

All money raised from the race goes directly to the clinic, to pay medical staff in Haiti, and to purchase equipment and supplies.

“This clinic is different from any of the other clinics in Haiti because it is completely free,” said Dr. Marion Bailey, a local dentist who was involved from the beginning and was recruited by volunteer Genie Ashworth because Bailey had mission experience, was a dentist, and could speak French. “It’s quite a joy to be able to offer this.”

As large as the need was years ago, it only grew as word traveled. And then there was the multi-layered challenge that resulted from the 2010 earthquake.

“We went from seeing 100 patients a day to 250 to 300,” Ashworth said.

The clinic was designated as a treatment center after the earthquake. A rehab center designed to treat those injured in the earthquake has become a permanent part of the Holy Spirit compound. Today, the clinic has grown to the point of having 32 paid employees – doctors, dentists, therapists and various specialists.

Among the services offered by the clinic: dermatology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, lab, pharmacy and an optical dispensary. There is also a pediatric rehab clinic to treat children with birth injuries.

Bailey also said that many people coming to the clinic had never before seen a dentist, adding, “There’s a link between oral health and systemic health.”

Kraus believes one reason the clinic has succeeded on a tight budget is because the group was selective in its goals.

“We didn’t try to tackle things we couldn’t do – like an AIDS center or TB (tuberculosis),” he said. “We’re treating a population that has gotten to know us and depend on what we do. About 70,000 people a year come through that compound.”

The next goal: turn the clinic completely over to the people of Haiti. Kraus said 29 of the 32 full-time employees are Haitians.

“That’s a long-term goal,” Ashworth said, adding with a laugh, “None of us is getting any younger.”

So, the hope is that there will be many more Tour d’Esprits. Kraus will participate, saying, “I usually put in my miles.” But there’s more to the event than just making that one-mile loop over and over.

“People camp out, decorate their camp sites, have a lot of fun,” Kraus said. “They bring satellite dishes and watch football. We’ll probably have 300 campers. It’s kind of an-under-the-radar event.”

Other activities that are part of the weekend: a Friday night spaghetti dinner and live auction. There is also a silent auction, a gourmet Saturday breakfast and a closing cookout Saturday afternoon.

To sign up for the Tour d’Esprit, visit Racesonline.com. If you register by Tuesday, Oct. 1, the cost is $30. After that, it’s $35 to sign up at the site. If you don’t want to run, you still can come to the other events.

Visit www.haitimedicalmissionsofmemphis.org for more information.