Throughout April, NFL Players Association medical director Thom Mayer spent three weeks in Ukraine treating 350 patients.
Mayer, a graduate of Anderson High School, traveled to Ukraine as part of Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to serve communities in need by sending military veterans, first responders, health and technology solutions to provide assistance, according to Team Rubicon’s website.
Between his training in emergency medicine and his work with the NFL, Mayer felt uniquely qualified to help in Ukraine.
Mayer’s patients were internally displaced people — people who had been displaced from their homes and were often 800 miles or more from any form of Ukrainian health care assistance.
The Rubicon team traveled wherever needed, often treating people at train stations or at the Ukrainian Olympic Center, bringing their own medications, injections and equipment.
“I led a mobile emergency team. We would get in the saddle in the morning, myself, a medical assistant, a few nurses and a few fire paramedics,” Mayer said. “We were going where we needed to go to meet the needs of the patients that day…. It was an honor and a privilege. The main thing you are left with is their bravery, courage, tenacity.
Kevin Lane has known Mayer since they met in third grade at Meadowbrook Elementary School and kept in touch with Mayer during his time abroad.
Lane and a few other Anderson High School friends would receive text updates from Mayer, but were never told where he was as he was considered a high-value kidnapping target.
Ultimately, Lane always believed that Mayer was brilliant but humble, and he didn’t shy away from helping those in need.
“It’s exactly the kind of life we expected of him,” Lane said.
Mayer believes doctors learn more from their patients than they give, and he felt humbled by those he met while in Ukraine.
He met a 9-year-old boy at a train station, a target area for Russian forces, who showed great spirit when he told the team’s interpreter, “Tell the American doctor, don’t worry , the people of Ukraine will be fine,” making the interpreter cry in response.
Additionally, Mayer treated a 73-year-old woman and her husband who had a stroke. Although she was moved from her home, this woman was carrying her toy cocoa chihuahua named Tyson and, feeling the need to make her laugh, Mayer placed her stethoscope on the dog’s head and said, “I think this guy needs psychotherapy.
Mayer’s biggest lesson from his experience was people’s ability to adapt to do whatever needs to be done.
“Think about the fact that the majority of these people literally had their homes destroyed by missiles or artillery rounds, had half an hour to an hour to figure out what to pack, what to bring and what to leave,” Mayer said. . “And if they did, they did it with a smile. They were very friendly; it showed an impressive level of courage in the experience.
As people opened their pockets and contributed to the cause in any way they could, Mayer felt lucky to be able to use his passport to travel to Ukraine and make a real impact.
If anyone is considering traveling abroad to try to help first hand, Mayer thinks they shouldn’t hesitate because it would be meeting a real need.
“You will be in danger. I certainly looked outside, heard a noise, looked out the window and saw four Russian missiles fly by and touch down about three blocks away,” Mayer said. “But it just tells you that you’re in the right place.”