BY MINDI SZUMANSKI, Publisher and Editor, Medical Journal – Houston
It was a typical Saturday afternoon in Houston when hundreds of physicians and medical professionals gathered together in a local arena for the Mobilizing Medical Missions Conference. Many were weighted down with life, but spirits were lifted as singers from developing countries, in their native attire and their mother tongue, sang “Amazing Grace.” Following the singing, Dr. Todd Price took the stage and delivered his heart for changing the world through medical missions. This physician was not trying to make the headlines of major newspapers or exposure on the next nightly news show. He merely wanted to affect and change the world one child, one village, one country at a time using the skills he had acquired through medicine. As he so emphatically spoke, in his delivery, the small things that crowd people’s minds seemed to fade away. His words completely disintegrated the premise that it takes the masses to reach the masses.
Dr. Price speaks his passion in the following interview.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What made you decide to become a physician?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: When I entered my senior year in high school, I realized that I better decide what I wanted to do with my life. So, I prayed. Over time I felt strongly impressed to pursue medicine. That was the first of my many prayers: I was naive at the time and didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to. I believe that it was God who made it possible for me to choose the right path and helped me overcome many obstacles to make it. And even today He is still helping me.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What made you decide to specialize in Infectious Disease?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: While in college, I typically worked on my holidays and summers to pay my way. But one summer I was given the opportunity to be one of five students from my college to travel to Southeast Asia, helping various humanitarian efforts. It was my first trip outside of the USA, and I learned that I didn’t know a whole lot about the real life struggles that most people in the world face on a daily basis. I was exposed to many situations. I worked in a Vietnamese refugee camp (it was just after the conclusion of the Vietnam conflict); I worked in a leprosy colony; I visited prisons and slums and schools; I learned about the lives and struggles of the common people; I even had the opportunity to travel to The Peoples Republic of China before the USA had normalized relations. There were many more experiences and daily basis even today. But there was one experience that rises above all the others. One week we took a slow boat from Manila to Samar, one of the smaller islands in the Philippines. When we arrived, our hosts pointed out to me many children, aged 6-12 years old that had a parasitic infection, called Schistosomiasis. These children had distended abdomens, yellow skin, and appeared very cachectic. I was told that they had developed liver failure because of this parasite and all of them soon would die. There was nothing, they said, that could be done for them. I kept thinking that they were just children who wanted to have a chance at life. That was the day I decided that I would specialize in infectious disease.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: How would you describe yourself?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: It depends upon the day. But one thing is that I am not satisfied with what I have done, and I am hoping to do much more in the future.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: Describe your leadership style.
Todd M. Price, M.D.: It is best to treat everyone with the same respect no matter what station in life they may currently hold.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What do you attribute your success to?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: When I first started practicing medicine, I was told that in order to become accepted in the medical community and in order to become a good consultant in which other physicians bestow trust, I would need to give lectures, meet as many physicians as possible, get my name out. So, I began to do just that. But I had a wife and a family, and it just wasn’t right for me to be away from them most nights. I also wanted to go back to the Philippines and many other places to provide aid. I was fortunate that I had a wife (a nurse) that also had this same desire, and was willing to work hard right along side of me. So, I decreased my attendance at the meetings and limited my talks.
My wife and I at that time agreed that we would begin to go to the world. We packed our bags with medications and took our two boys back to the Philippines, and to Nepal, and elsewhere, where we were able to address some of the health needs in these places. For the first three years of my practice, I worked for another physician. Our trips, therefore, occurred on my vacation time. But when I went out on my own into a solo practice, there was even more pressure to stay here and develop a growing practice.
Again, I was fortunate to have a wife who was willing not only to continue to go with me on these trips, but also to stay behind when it was necessary for her to do so to take care of both the family and home as well as the growing practice.
It didn’t make sense that I would be able to grow my practice in that way. It didn’t make sense that I would become successful that way. But as it turned out, each time we would go away, we would come back to even more patients and more respect from the medical community.
My success is due to God’s principle of giving and receiving. Every time we gave our time away, or our expertise, or took time to treat the poor or indigent, God gave back to us.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: Do you have a mentor? If so, please explain.
Todd M. Price, M.D.: I do not nor have I ever had a specific mentor. Yet I know that those who had taught me all along the way have made me who I am. And these were not only my professors or attending physicians. They also include my wife and two boys, my patients, and colleagues.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What is the one thing you would change about healthcare if you could?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: I assume the question refers to healthcare in the United States, not elsewhere. In the USA, everybody should step back and realize that the goal is providing healthcare and not limiting it.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What is something that you think your peers probably do not know about you?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: There are many things. But probably the most surprising is what we have been able to do worldwide. In 1993, after volunteering for various humanitarian aid organizations up until that time, we established an NGO, International Medical Outreach (IMO). Since that time, we have had projects in 40 countries, distributed deworming medications to over 50 million children worldwide, provided medications, medical supplies, medical equipment valued at close to a billion US dollars to various locations around the world.
We now are intimately involved in community development projects in Uganda and Burundi. These projects were initiated when we decided to take a more active and personal role in the lives of those in rural communities, where the five basic health care problems (lack of clean water, lack of education, lack of resources, mismanagement of human waste, malnutrition) were not being addressed. When we started in Uganda, over 75% of the children had intestinal parasites, most were anemic, and almost all were m a l n o u r i s h e d . Some were so malnourished that they were stunted. Now after just one year the incidence of parasitic infections has dropped to 50%. We have augmented public health instruction in the schools. We have converted over 90 pit latrines to compost toilets that clean up the environment so that enteric disease transmission is decreased. And we have just bought 50 acres of prime farmland where we will demonstrate how to grow nutritious products and also provide the same for school feeding programs.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What motivated you to get involved with medicine overseas?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: I think I answered that in question number 2. But also from a very young age, I developed a compassion for people around the world. I remember working extra small jobs to raise $15 per month to support a poor girl in Taiwan from the time I was about 12 years old. Since I became a physician, I just expanded what worked for me then.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What do you enjoy doing for fun or outside of being a doctor?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: I like to paint/ draw pictures (watercolors, pastels, pencil, etc). Reading about just about everything (but especially history, literature and the evolution of religious thought - not just Christian, yet the Bible is an everyday read) is also very enjoyable. I write too. Finally, I like to exercise outside either on a bicycle or on foot (hiking trails), and of course, I enjoy being with my family.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: What can you tell us about your family?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: I met my wife, Sue in college where she received her nursing degree. We were married after my second year of medical school and therefore went with me to California where I was a resident at UCLA. When we came to Houston for my infectious disease fellowship at Baylor she continued to work full time until we began our family. When I went into solo practice she stepped in to manage my office. She also utilizes her excellent managerial skills to serve as the Executive Director of IMO.
Andrew is 29, and after he graduated from The University of Texas with a degree in Sociology, he stepped in to help at IMO. Initially, he volunteered by taking over the logistics of our 20,000 square foot warehouse which at the time was full of items that needed a place to go. By the end of a year he had organized and distributed almost all, and continued to do so over the next few years. At that time, we were shipping out containers with medications and supplies worth multi-millions of dollars (we had years in which we distributed a value in US dollars of 200 to 300 million plus). These he was able to clear through customs with our partners in various overseas locations. Most recently he has been our Chief Operating Officer and by working closely with Sue has been instrumental in developing our community-based programs as outlined above. He has decided recently that he would like to pursue a master’s in Public Health to expand his knowledge base. He has been accepted in several wellknown programs around the USA and will b e g i n his studies in the upcoming fall semester. He also will be marrying Gabby in April. She is a nurse who has been w o r k i n g in the intermediate care unit at Texas Children’s Hospital for the past several years.
Austin will turn 26 this month and married Mindy in December. She has her master’s in Public Health and currently works as a researcher at the University of Texas. Austin graduated from Emory a few years ago with a degree in History and African Studies. He also completed a course in Patagonia with NOLS (National Outside Leadership School) where he pursued his interest in sea kayaking and surviving the glacier wilderness of the high country. He is a writer and a photographer and has interned in New York City for World Vision, and worked in Burundi for a local NGO, among other jobs. Most if not all of the stories and photos on our website are his, as he has also traveled extensively with us. He is now pursuing a master’s in Photojournalism with an emphasis on Environmental Studies at the University of Texas.
Mindi Szumanski, MJH: How do you balance work and family?
Todd M. Price, M.D.: We are very close and enjoy doing things together. We each have individual personalities and interests. Balancing medicine is sometimes very hard, and although I attended most of our boy’s games in sports and scholastics when they were growing up and made all their important events, still I missed some things which I wish I had not.
As I alluded to above, Sue and I decided early on that we would include the boys in all that we were involved. Our first trip overseas together was when Andrew was almost three years old, and Sue was six months pregnant with Austin. That trip was to Nepal. When I went inside the Infectious Disease Hospital in Kathmandu, Sue and Andrew stayed outside. But they went everywhere with me when we were providing medical care to the rural communities. This was our pattern and when the boys became older, we put them to work too. They grew up in our NGO as our NGO matured. It was just a part of their life. I guess that is why even though they are rising in their own individual career paths, they remain intimately involved in all our work overseas.
This one doctor has caused a huge ripple in the lives of the indigent masses. His life epitomizes the notion that one person can make a difference, a major difference, when they pursue their purpose and not notoriety. Instead of entertaining excuses, he rolled up his sleeves, packed his suitcases with medications, traveled across the world, and answered his calling. Obstacles are treated as yield signs and opportunities rather than red lights or closed doors. His tenacity and compassion have meant the difference between life and death for thousands.
Overseas Medical Projects
2016 Uganda (3), Burundi
2015 Malawi, Uganda (2), Burundi, Haiti
2014 Burundi (3), Uganda, Honduras
2013 Uganda, Burundi, Nicaragua, Vietnam
2012 Uganda, Perú, Guatemala, Jordan, Ukraine
2011 Nicaragua, Uganda, Perú
2010 Guatemala, Kuwait, Haití, Ukraine, Tanzania (2), Egypt
2009 México, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya (2), Tanzania (2), Ukraine
2008 Kenya, Tanzania (2), Mexico (2), Ecuador, Ukraine
2007 Kenya (2), Honduras, Mexico
2006 Ukraine, Nicaragua, Honduras
2005 Indonesia, Russia, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Ecuador
2004 Armenia, Honduras, Ukraine, Peru, Botswana, Ecuador
2003 India, Ukraine (2), Kenya, Republic of Georgia
2002 Uganda, Ecuador, Ukraine, Tanzania
2001 Guatemala, Russia, Ukraine (2), Moldova
2000 Perú, Ukraine, Ecuador, Peru 1999 Philippines, Ukraine, Botswana, Nepal
1998 India, Ukraine, Botswana, Nepal
1995 Philippines, Brazil
1994 India (2), Philippines
1993 Bulgaria, Sri Lanka
1990 Nepal (2), India, Thailand
1987 Philippines, Dominican Republic
“He is one of the most impactful people in Houston and yet is not known by anyone in the Houston medical community. The irony is not lost on many of us that have come to know him. For him to be able to distribute $250 million in medical goods around the world, and yet people walk down the hall and don’t know who he is, is a testament to his character. He is unassuming, and yet has a boldness from his faith which has allowed him to perform great acts of charity around the globe.” -Roger Schultz, M.D.
* *OVERSEAS MEDICAL PROJECTS are those projects sponsored by International Medical Outreach, a humanitarian aid organization recognized by the United States Internal Revenue Service as a 501(C) 3 nonprofit corporation. Each project consists of providing health care in hospitals, temporary or permanent clinics, or mass treatment programs (several days to several weeks), in rural or urban centers (chosen by local authorities as areas of need) where indigent peoples are provided medical examination, medication, surgeries and/or other services.