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Baseball Player Mike Danaher Gives Back In A Big Way

Junior catcher travels to Africa for two week medical mission

March 5, 2012

Baseball Player Mike Danaher Gives Back In  A Big Way

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Calling a game behind the plate takes lots of concentration and preparation. In arguably the most strenuous position on the baseball diamond, manning the catcher’s position is a difficult challenge that proves to be important when seeking a winning formula. For Binghamton catcher Mike Danaher, his experiences as a collegiate athlete barely rival what he witnessed and learned over a two week span spent on a medical mission to East Africa.

Danaher, who is a junior catcher on the BU baseball team, recently spent two weeks in Kenya over winter break, in accordance with the Wilson Rehab Foundation. The Foundation, which is spearheaded by president and local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas R. Kerr, has multiple initiatives which include raising funds and providing educational training and support for local rehabilitation centers in Kenya. Since its inception in 1984, the foundation has raised over four million dollars to mission hospitals in need. Danaher, who graduated from nearby Vestal High and plans on furthering his education in medical school, was one of 11 members on the nearly 17-hour journey.

“We arrived on New Year’s and as you can imagine the streets were filled with people celebrating and rejoicing,” Danaher said. “It was quite a spectacle.”

Since they arrived on a holiday, hospitals officially were not open, leaving the group with the opportunity of visiting the Nyumbani orphanage. The orphanage houses children from the ages 1-25, who have been stricken with HIV/AIDS. Known as a growing problem in Africa, HIV/AIDS has left an estimated 1.2 million children in Kenya orphaned.

“If you have HIV or AIDS in Kenya you’re completely ostracized in the community,” Danaher explained. “Imagine being exiled from not only your village, but from your family. The folks at Nyumbani take these kids in and give them an opportunity to get better. They care and provide them with the medicine and support, all the while trying to assemble a sense of normality in their everyday lives.” 

On their visit to the orphanage, the weather was a sunny and beautiful 81 degrees and the children were in great spirits, as they were given the opportunity to play with a giant inflatable bouncy castle that the group donated for the afternoon.  The orphanage is not self-sustaining, so everything from clothes, food, facilities, medicine and other resources are all donated. All 116 children at the home have assigned mothers who look after and take care of them, sometimes living in groups of 10-15 per house.  Despite their unfortunate circumstances, they have maintained a positive and happy outlook on life.

“To interact with them was an incredible experience,” he said. “To be able to see the kids laughing and playing was great. They are truly grateful for everything they receive and are such an inspiration.”

As a high school senior at Vestal, Danaher was enrolled in a new visions program that allowed him to shadow different professionals working in the medical field. This turned out to be a beneficial experiment for the nearby Apalachin native, who was given the chance of seeing his strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes at various different levels.

“Over time I have developed an interest and passion in orthopedic surgery,” Danaher proclaimed. “I was so fortunate that Dr. Kerr invited me on this mission and was given a great opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience about the profession.”

Members of the group, including Mike, volunteered their time and assistance at the Kikuyu Orthopedic Rehabilitation Centre in Kenya. There, Mike assisted Dr. Kerr and other surgeons on more than 12 surgeries that ranged from hip replacements, to working on fractures of the femur and radial ulnar joint. To his benefit, he was able to not only see first-hand how to operate, but also was asked to assist and perform surgical tasks—something most medical students don’t get the opportunity of experiencing until their third year of residency.

It was also a chance to see some things that would rarely be witnessed in hospitals across the United States. Because of the high levels of poverty, some patients wait weeks, even months before coming in to receive treatment. The cost of staying in the hospital overnight is the equivalent of 25 US dollars, for most people in Kenya that’s an expense they simply can’t afford.  Another major difference is in the medical resources and equipment used at these hospitals. 

“The knives and drills we would use in surgery were sometimes so dull it was nerve wrecking,” BU’s backstop said. “It wasn’t a very calming experience trying to cut around a blood vessel or nerve with a dull set of scissors, but it’s a reality over there. Their doctors were just as knowledgeable and skilled as people practicing in the United States and I was able to learn so much from them.”

Dr. Douglas R. Kerr has been in practice as an orthopedic surgeon for 28 years and has served as Binghamton University’s team doctor his entire career. Kerr, who began making trips to Kenya back in 2007, is thankful Mike was on board for the mission this winter.

“Not only does Mike possess a strong work ethic that goes unnoticed, he also recognizes the value of serving others,” Kerr said. “His compassion for less fortunate people is a key aspect of his character. He has a bright future and I look forward to following his career down the road as an orthopedic surgeon.”

Danaher, who batted .277 last year while committing no errors at catcher, begins his third season in a Bearcat uniform this spring.  It’s almost certain that any challenge or difficulty he faces on the baseball diamond won’t nearly mirror the experiences he witnessed and dealt with during his short time in Kenya.

“I’ve grown up and lived around the Binghamton area my entire life,” Danaher explains. “To see the world from a different perspective was an eye opening experience. I enjoyed the opportunity of giving back on a larger scale and truly can’t replace all the life lessons I learned on this trip.”

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