As editor, doctor sows hope
Lynn Staheli knows a lot. He's a pilot, a sailor, a photographer, an author and a doctor. One of the subjects he knows most about is how to take care of children's feet.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Information shared is powerful medicine.
Lynn Staheli knows a lot. He's a pilot, a sailor, a photographer, an author and a doctor.
One of the subjects he knows most about is how to take care of children's feet. That may seem a small thing, but he has used that knowledge to transform lives.
Working from his small home office in Eastlake, Staheli, with the help of family and friends, is giving doctors in poor countries access to techniques that vastly improve life for their patients.
It started with feet but keeps growing.
Staheli, 75, went to work at Seattle Children's when it was a small, "sleepy suburban hospital" in 1969. He was its first full-time surgeon and was a department head for 15 years.
His specialty is pediatric orthopedics. He's also a photographer who edited his college and medical-school yearbooks.
Those two pools of skills flowed together in 1980 when he started the "Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics," and now they've come together again on something much bigger.
The 9/11 attacks caused Staheli to look for some way to fight terrorism by relieving some of the desperate conditions that breed hopelessness and anger.
Staheli started with a method of treating clubfoot developed by a Spanish doctor, Ignacio Ponseti.
More than 100,000 babies are born with the defect, which — left untreated or treated improperly — has ruined lives. In many cases, a child's foot is simply cut off, leaving him to beg on the streets. Girls with the affliction may be rejected as marriage partners.
A cast, properly applied early on, can fix the problem, but hardly anyone knew about the treatment.
Ponseti had written a book, but the publisher charged $100 per copy and few were printed.
Staheli, who was retired from Children's, got Ponseti's permission to produce a 31-page, magazine-size book. Staheli edited the material, took photographs and used desktop-publishing software to put it together.
Three thousand copies went to 60 countries. It is in 15 languages now, and Ponseti's method is now the standard.
In 2002 Staheli started Global-HELP — for Health Education using Low-cost Publications.
He works full time (no pay) with two part-time staffers. The Stahelis and a few of their friends are the board of directors and the source of most of the $40,000 to $50,000 annual budget. Staheli says he was a Depression-era child, so he still does everything on the cheap.
His father was a teacher and his mother a social worker. They were big influences, but so is his traveling. He spent his ninth-grade year living in England, where his father was an exchange teacher.
Over the years he's lectured in 40 countries and has seen how little access to information doctors in poor countries have.
Global-HELP keeps adding projects. It has put $1,500 worth of medical textbooks on a CD that's free for doctors in developing countries.
So far, 60 publications are available for download from the Web site www.global-help.org or are in print.
Global-HELP is helping to heal bodies and the world.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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