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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Clown doctor shares Gesundheit! mission

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Clown doctor shares Gesundheit! mission

Baker City residents, from right, Serenity Foersterling, Sunny Rivendell and Monica Cartwright, met with Robert "Wildman'' Adams following his presentation at Community Connections Monday. Adams is a clown physician, who with others in his group, returned from a "smile mission'' to bring medical and comic relief to hospitals, schools, refugee camps and marketplaces in Afghanistan. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Baker City residents, from right, Serenity Foersterling, Sunny Rivendell and Monica Cartwright, met with Robert "Wildman'' Adams following his presentation at Community Connections Monday. Adams is a clown physician, who with others in his group, returned from a "smile mission'' to bring medical and comic relief to hospitals, schools, refugee camps and marketplaces in Afghanistan. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

The festive balloons bouncing in the dusty streets are a stark contrast to life in Afghanistan.

The people who brought the balloons look out of place as they venture into Afghan medical clinics clad in ridiculously large shoes, fake flowers affixed to their floppy hats and a red rubber ball perched on the tip of their noses.

These are the clown physicians of the Gesundheit! Institute, an organization founded by Hunter "Patch" Adams.

The images are from the film "Clownin' Kabul," a documentary about a clown physician trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, in February 2002, just a few months after America started attacking Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The clowns spent five weeks in Afghanistan.

Robert "Wildman" Adams, brother to Patch, is accompanying the film on a tour through the Northwest.

On Monday, the Baker County People for Human Dignity sponsored a public showing of the film at Community Connection.

The film's next Eastern Oregon showing is Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. in Zabel 142 on the campus of Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.

"Clownin' Kabul" opens with jubilant, upbeat music as the bus filled with clown doctors traverses the Afghan countryside, balloons pouring from the windows.

But those sounds soon fade to cries of wounded children, all awaiting treatment and care at an Afghan clinic.

A small child's screams pierce through the others as a doctor attempts to operate — without anesthesia — on her severe burns caused by scalding water.

Her mother — acting as the nurse — helps hold her child as tears run down her cheeks.

Suddenly two clowns enter the room, one playing a peaceful tune on a violin, the other acting silly before the crying girl.

She watches the clowns through her tears.

Soon her yells of pain subside as the clowns hold her attention, and the doctor finishes the burn treatment.

The clowns spread throughout the clinic, distributing balloons and letting the children squeeze their squeaky red rubber noses.

Even the parents smile.

"The kids are easy — you just have to act like a fool," Wildman Adams said.

The Afghanistan trip is just one of many organized through the Gesundheit! Institute, he said.

Future trips include Russia, Cambodia, Palestine, Iraq and more.

Right now they're recruiting for the trip to Russia in 2004.

Adams said he's never thought twice about entering countries engaged in war.

"I've never felt apprehensive," he said.

Anyone from age 12 to 87 is welcome to participate in these trips, Adams said.

"You gotta have the whole spectrum," he said. "Teen-agers are the hardest to clown for — they react to other teen-agers."

There's no need to hold a medical degree to partake in these trips.

Adams said the Gesundheit! doctors can offer opinions if asked, but they don't crowd into the medical turf of the countries.

But they do bring supplies.

During their Afghanistan trip, the Gesundheit! representatives delivered more than 10 tons of food, clothing, medical supplies — and thousands of balloons.

Adams said it's sometimes hard to take medicine to Third World countries because it doesn't always reach the patients — some doctors will turn around and sell it on the black market.

"You have to be careful who you give it to, every time, everywhere," he said.

But it's worth the effort.

"These are our kids and our next-door neighbors," Adams said. "It's just about opening your heart. There's magic you can do with your heart."

The current project of Gesundheit! Institute is to build a hospital in rural West Virginia.

"It'll be compassionate, caring health care — for free," Adams said.

He said his brother Patch already has a list of doctors, nurses and other specialists who will donate six months or a year of their time to work at the hospital.

For more information on the mission of Gesundheit, visit the Web site at www.patchadams.org.

A copy of "Clownin' Kabul" is available for one-day rental at the Baker County Public Library, and members of the Baker County People for Human Dignity are available to show the film to local service groups or organizations and answer questions.

More information is available by calling Ed and Susan Moses at 523-6448.

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