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Medical Teams president takes to streets

Recommendations to be made by mayors, others by July 22


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Bas Vanderzalm, 65, crosses the finish line after a 220 mile walk from Redmond, Wash. to Tigard. Vanderzalm retired last week as president of Medical Teams International.When Bas Vanderzalm announced last January that he would be stepping down from his post as president and chief executive officer of Medical Teams International in Tigard, he didn’t realize just how many steps it would take.

More than 2,000 of them, to be exact.

Vanderzalm recently completed a 220-mile hike from Medical Teams’ offices in Redmond, Wash., to its headquarters in Tigard as a way to kick off his retirement and personally thank the many people and organizations who have helped the charity over the years.

Since 1997, Vanderzalm has served as president and CEO of the Christian-based medical group, which donates medical supplies and support to countries all over the world.

“I didn’t just want to turn the page and move on,” Vanderzalm said.

Vanderzalm stepped down as CEO last year and is credited with leading the organization to become a global leader in humanitarian aid, often accompanying volunteer medics to far flung corners of the world, including Uganda and Guatamala.

Wherever there is a crisis, Medical Teams has been there, from Haiti after its massive earthquake in 2010, to Libya, where volunteers helped wounded people during the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

Vanderzalm began his march June 13 at Medical Teams’ offices in Redmond, Wash.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Bas Vanderzalm, 65, recently walked 220 miles from Redmond, Wash. to Tigard. Vanderzalm was president of Medical Teams International.It took Vanderzalm 14 days to walk to the organization’s headquarters on Southwest Milton Court, where employees were waiting for him with his retirement party. Walking 20 miles each day, and blogging every step of his journey, Vanderzalm said the people Medical Teams served were never far from his mind.

“Many of the people we serve around the world walk. They don’t own cars, can’t afford a bicycle and have no money to even pay public transportation,” Vanderzalm said from his Bull Mountain home on Tuesday. “If they want to go somewhere, they have to walk. Whether it’s a health center, whether its to get food, to get to school. It takes walking.”

When wars or natural disasters occur, families must walk to safety, often walking every day for two weeks by cover of night until they reach a safe place to stay.

“I really began to think a bit more what it was like for those people,” Vanderzalm said. “But I had a shower and place to sleep at the end of the day, they don’t.

“I wanted to remember the people we serve, and give gratitude to God who has blessed me.”

Before coming to Medical Teams, Vanderzalm worked for The Salvation Army for 16 years and in innercity Boston with Inner Light Center.

Vanderzalm isn’t the first to trek cross-country for a good cause. In May, Richard Swanson, of Seattle, passed through Tigard on his way to Brazil, raising awareness about the One World Futbol Co. He was struck and killed by a car in Lincoln City a few days later.

That story made international headlines about a month before Vanderzalm was to set out on his walk.

“That was really sobering,” said Vanderzalm’s wife Lynn. “We were under no illusions that this was a walk in the park.”

Lynn accompanied Vanderzalm on his trip, working out places to stay each night and coordinating with families who wanted to join her husband on his trek toward Tigard.

About 50 co-workers, volunteers, and longtime donors met him along his route as he walked, and joined him for a few hours.

“It was great, there was a bunch of people,” Vanderzalm said. “It was a real mix. In Longview I was met by two volunteers, one was on our very first team, back in 1979.”

Along the way Vanderzalm stopped in at homes and offices of longtime donors to thank them for their contributions. When Vanderzalm reached Portland, about 30 co-workers and volunteers marched the last few miles to the Medical Teams building on Southwest Milton Court, where the company was waiting to host Vanderzalm’s retirement party.

All in all, Vanderzalm said, despite the long days and endless miles of road, the trip was worth every step.

Vanderzalm will take many memories with him from his time with Medical Teams, he said, whether it was hand-carrying a box of surgical supplies to a doctor in Kosovo after the war, or seeing Afghan doctors weep when a semi-truck of medicine was dropped off.

Vanderzalm said he reflected on those memories and others, along his journey and said it was a great way to end the career he started four decades ago.

In his 16 years, Vanderzalm said, Medical Teams has donated about $1.6 billion worth of medicine and supplies all over the world, and that’s not counting the hundreds of teams of volunteer surgeons, doctors and nurses who have flown across the globe to lend a hand.

“If you were to shut down what we were doing, millions of people around the world wouldn’t have access to the things they need,” he said.




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