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Dr. Lepird: Mexico a life-changing experience

By Staff | Sep 5, 2008

Dr. Richard Lepird Thursday told Estherville Rotarians about his experience in providing medical care to the needy in Mexico. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Dr. Richard Lepird of Estherville told Estherville Rotarians Thursday something that his grandfather told him that has remained with him his entire life: “If you believe in something, stand up and make yourself known.”

Dr. Lepird, a podiatric surgeon whose surgical procedure for correcting clubfoot still remains the world standard, is still dedicating his life to helping others, even though it’s in central Mexico.

Dr. Lepird is a member of LIGA International, also known as the Flying Doctors of Mercy, a group of physicians of various disciplines, pilots, nurses, and technicians who fly once a month to central Mexico to provide free health care to the poor. They don’t do it for the money. In fact, the doctors pay $200 each for fuel for the planes while the pilots donate their time and the aircraft.

For Dr. Lepird, his volunteer service to the people of Mexico gives him an opportunity to continue to practice his talents as a doctor and surgeon.

“It’s like riding a bicycle. You never forget about riding a bicycle,” Dr. Lepird said.

While doctors practicing in the U.S. have to maintain malpractice insurance due to the high incidence of litigation, that is not the case in Mexico where malpractice insurance is not required.

Dr. Lepird and the medical team travel to clinics in three different communities in Central Mexico – El Fuerte, San Blas and El Corizo.

His first trip was particularly moving.

“It was an emotional experience,” Dr. Lepird said. “There’s so much need for medical services of every kind.”

He was so moved, in fact, that he is now beginning his fourth year of volunteer service to the rural Mexican people.

The clinics are held the first weekend of every month except July and August when the clinics are unbearably hot due to lack of air conditioning.

“We go to work right away,” Dr. Lepird said, starting at 2 p.m. and going until 9 p.m. Friday. The people begin gathering at the front door 4 a.m. Saturday when it all starts all over again. He will do up to five surgeries on a Saturday.

“We have people of every discipline represented on our team” of 90, Dr. Lepird said. “It is the most gratifying experience. You come back really touched. It is a very exhausting weekend but certainly rewarding.”

Dr. Lepird recalls that on his last trip he removed a tumor from a young girl’s foot. Poor but thankful, the family rewarded him with a beautiful embroidered shawl.

After volunteering for several years, Dr. Lepird’s attitude toward the Mexican people has changed. The primarily agriculture area where he practices pays people $4 or less a day, a major reason whey they want to come to the U.S. for work. “It’s the natural thing to do. Their families are number one in their lives,” he said.

Despite the income difference between the Mexican people and the American doctors who volunteer their time, Dr. Lepird said he feels very safe there.

“I feel safer there than I would on any big town in the United States,” he said.

Not all the doctors who volunteer their time are retired. In fact, most still have active practices.

He estimates the team sees 700 patients in a day and a half, many of whom travel 50-60 miles for treatment.

The facilities are less than ideal.

“This is all Third World stuff,” Dr. Lepird said. “It’s all donated.” He said the clinics use donated used equipment from hospitals and outdated pharmaceuticals. The nearest X-ray facility is 45 miles away. “What you’ve got you’ve got to live with,” he said.

With clubfoot corrective surgery his speciality, Dr. Lepird has seen more patients with that deformity in Mexico than he did during his entire time in practice in the U.S. He attributes that fact to genetics and poor prenatal care.

It’s all rewarding, though. The community women cook for them and they sleep in dormitories, and despite the primitive conditions in which they work, the medical teams returns to the U.S. with a sense of reward and satisfaction that comes only rarely even in their own practices.

More for information on the Flying Doctors of Mercy, see .