grandmother used to compliment us by saying we “made her
proud” when we made good grades or performed well at piano
recitals, even when we tolerated unwanted attention from the
crabby lady at church. Well, Joe Hyder is the kind of young man
who simply makes all of us proud. Joe describes himself as an
Air Force brat, the fourth of four children. His childhood
memories really begin after his dad left the US Air Force and
went to work teaching physics at Auburn University in Alabama,
deep in the southern region of the United States. Dad was a
nuclear physicist while in the military. When young Joe asked
his dad where he went on business trips, he jokingly said he was
out saving the Free World.
The family lived in Alabama from the time Joe
was three until he was twelve years old. His memories of these
formative years are delightful. The family home was near the
woods and young Joe and his friends could explore, climb trees,
catch snakes and build hideouts and forts there. He learned to
appreciate nature and became fascinated with the behavior of
animals. The family moved to Indiana when Joe was 13 so that his
father could take a position at Notre Dame University, his alma
mater. Joe completed high school and entered Notre Dame himself,
intent on studying animal behavior.
He spent a summer in the woods of north
Wisconsin working in a university-sponsored program, observing
and recording the behavior of trumpeter swans. Trumpeter swans
had been hunted to near extinction in the United States, and
this program was part of a plan to reintroduce them into remote
wooded areas in the northern parts of the country. Newly hatched
swans were raised by hand using swan puppets as “parents”.
This apparently didn’t produce the friendliest of cygnets, and
it wasn’t uncommon for the adult swans to attack their
researchers. Swans, Joe notes, can be quite badly behaved and
very sneaky. The death of at least one fisherman has been
attributed to a swan that attacked him from behind, toppling him
from his boat and drowning him. Swan E-43 became Joe’s
nemesis, and the aggressive behavior of this big bird almost
caused Joe to have to learn how to swan wrestle.
At the end of his experience, Joe decided
that he would rather observe people than birds, and set his
sights on anthropology. His next summer volunteer program
resulted in his working with homeless people in one of the worst
neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio. Joe stayed with a volunteer
host family in a very affluent neighborhood, shuttling between
their mansion and four-car garage in the suburbs to the slums
and homeless shelter. He developed an acute awareness of the
inequities in the health care system, and moved towards medicine
and health care as a career goal.
Joe graduated from college prepared to go to
medical school, but continued to be interested in anthropology.
Accepted by the University of California Medical School at San
Diego, he began studying in a dual MD/PhD. program that
specializes in graduating physician scientists. Joe completed
two years of medical school, and then completed two years of
epidemiological studies towards his PhD. The National Institute
of Health advertised a special international exchange program,
and Joe applied.
NIH had brought foreign students to the
United States to study for about 20 years, but this was the
first time the program was sending students from U.S. medical
schools to work in developing nations. Through a series of
interviews, Joe was matched with Chiang Mai University, and his
horizons expanded yet again.
Most of the countries that received medical
students badly need physicians and have poor or no public health
infrastructure. But Thailand is different, Joe notes, because it
is scientifically and ethically advanced. Its public health
structure is capable, and its research teams experienced. So Joe
found himself in a Johns Hopkins-based research facility at CMU
that seemed to have already done every research project he
He found his niche, though, on the
Thailand-Burma border, and hopes to take his experiences in
international border medicine with him when he returns to
California. He noted the similarities with the San Diego-Tijuana
border. In each case, ethnic minorities illegally cross the
border in hopes of a better life, often bringing with them the
health and social problems that go with poverty.
Joe isn’t the only one in his family who is
concerned about the poor and their health problems. Wife Kate,
an architect, telephoned him from a Chiang Mai shopping center
recently and said that she had found a homeless young man who
had a bad leg. Could he come and help? So off he went and the 17
year old patient was admitted to the hospital for treatment of
an open sore. The diagnosis was leprosy and an injury due to
peripheral nerve damage. Joe was introduced to the services of
the McKean Center, which accepted the patient for treatment on a
Sunday afternoon with no charge for the services.
Joe and Kate will be returning to the United
States in the next few months. Kate will resume her career as an
architect, and Joe will write his dissertation on the prevention
of cardiovascular disease. If all goes well, he will be Joe
Hyder, Ph.D. in a year, and will then return to medical school.
During his fourth year of medical school, he
hopes to return to Thailand to again work on the border. Then he
will complete a residency, probably in internal medicine, and go
to work in patient care and research.
Because of his research focus, he hopes to build his career
in a university setting or a large teaching hospital. He’s a
remarkable and modest young man. He sees nothing unusual about
his choice to work in public health. He simply says, “I want
to be the doctor for the person who wouldn’t have had one.”
Can you see how he makes us proud?