David Mayer is on a mission, a longstanding quest to prevent those from dying at the hands of medical mistakes. A retired doctor and CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, Mayer’s decades-long crusade has him crisscrossing the continental United States, meeting those dealt the unimaginable blow of losing their loved one to an error. This past year, in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Mayer’s desire to help others intersected with one of his life’s greatest passions.
The passion for baseball.
“Last February, when the pandemic was really starting to rear up, many of us in healthcare saw what was going to happen,” Mayer said in an interview with Cronkite News. “We were very concerned and not being at the front lines anymore, I sort of felt helpless, that I could not be there with my friends and colleagues. That helplessness turned into watching “Forrest Gump” one night, and I turned to my wife and I said, ‘I can’t run like he did, but I could walk across America and try to raise awareness.'”
Since the discussion with his wife Cathy, Mayer, 67, has taken to the streets walking across the country. With a childhood passion for baseball, Mayer settled on the goal of reaching all 30 MLB ballparks to raise awareness for patient safety.
“I just decided I had a passion for baseball,” Mayer said in an interview with Cronkite News. “I’ve always been a big baseball fan. I love all sports. But there’s something about baseball that has just survived through the years.”
Mayer, a native of Chicago, moved to Arizona for retirement after spending his career as an anesthesiologist. He trains for his walks at the Peoria Sports Complex, the spring training home of San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.
As the CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, Mayer understands the importance of informing and educating the public on patient safety. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, preventable medical harm is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
“Every day I walk in memory of a caregiver or a patient that’s lost their lives due to preventable medical harm,” Mayer said. “We really have been trying to raise awareness that patient and caregiver death is a third leading cause of death in the United States.”
Carole Hemmelgarn knows too well the damage preventable medical harm can do to a family. Hemmelgarn lost her daughter, Alyssa, who was 9-years-old at the time, to a preventable medical error.
“My daughter was diagnosed with leukemia on a Monday afternoon and she died 10 days later,” Hemmelgarn said. “You don’t die of leukemia in this day and age in 10 days. She died because of multiple medical errors.”
Hemmelgarn explained her daughter was experiencing symptoms of sepsis, but the doctors continued to treat her for anxiety.
“There were several communication breakdowns and there was a classic failure to rescue,” Hemmelgarn said. “They just focused in on an original diagnosis and could not see anything else past that.”
Since her daughter’s death, Hemmelgarn has become an advocate for the Patient Safety Movement, using her experience to voice support for preventative safety measures.
Hemmelgarn and Mayer represented those lost to unnecessary medical harm in Washington D.C. for National Patient Safety Day Thursday. In partnership with the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, the organization conducted a walk to honor those lost, culminating with an address from several key figures including former President Bill Clinton.
As for his goal of visiting all 30 MLB stadiums, Mayer has traveled to 17 so far. He plans on making additional trips to Philadelphia and Boston after National Patient Safety Day. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayer believes it may stretch into 2021 before he will explore every ballpark within the major leagues.
National Patient Safety founder and board member Joe Kiani recognizes the attention Mayer has brought to the organization with his country-wide treks.
“He is walking to his favorite baseball stadiums to draw attention, both locally and nationally, to this problem,” Kiani said. “He has been very successful.”
Although Mayer’s quest to visit all 30 ballparks has brought much-needed attention to this subject, seeing all the stadiums is secondary to his ultimate goal.
“To save one life,” Mayer said. “If 1,400 miles saves one life, it was well worth it. When you hear these stories of how people lose loved ones, it’s heartbreaking.”