CHICAGO — Wearing a Chicago Cubs cap, T-shirt and shorts, Dr. David Mayer finished a 7.2-mile morning walk from Northwestern University behind a group of supporters holding a “Patient Safety Movement” sign Saturday morning under the Wrigley Field marquee.
Mayer, a Cubs season ticket holder who grew up in Chicago, is more than 1,000 miles since February into a walk to every Major League Baseball park and spring training fields, hoping to raise awareness about preventable deaths that occur in health-care settings.
It’s a cause he has been advocating for two decades, noting preventable medical harm is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. And he’s hoping the healthcare and hospital issues highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic help increase awareness.
“We’ve got to do better,” Mayer said. “I think the pandemic has brought more of this out and exposed more gaps in the healthcare industry. There’s over 700 nurses, therapists who died because they didn’t have the right equipment and training to fight this pandemic. It’s a shame. We could have done better.”
Mayer, the founder of Patient Safety Movement Foundation and executive director of MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety, worked as a cardiac anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. He studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago for both his undergraduate and medical degrees.
The Patient Safety Movement Foundation spans 51 countries and 4,600 hospitals, Mayer said, aiming to encourage a “culture of safety” and transparency to eliminate harm to patients and caregivers.
“I’ve gotten to meet too many people, and it just makes you cry when you lose an 11-year-old and lose a 3-year-old,” said Mayer, 67. “It became my passion and evolved out of the operating room to leadership.”
Stuck inside in early February, he watched the movie “Forrest Gump,” which features Tom Hanks playing a character who famously runs across America. An idea struck Mayer: He could raise awareness walking enough miles to add up to the length of a cross-country walk.
He figures he will walk 2,600 miles by February.
He has hit six ballparks and 10 Cactus League sites already, starting his journey in May at Sloan Park, the Cubs’ Mesa, Ariz., training facility. The nearly 100-mile leg from Milwaukee to Wrigley took about a week.
He arrived at his favorite ballpark Saturday surrounded by fellow advocates and people who have lost loved ones to preventable medical errors.
At each finish line, Mayer or a family sets aside a stone he has painted with the names of someone who has died, and he holds a moment of silence.
Barbara Malizzo and her daughter Kristina Chavez placed pink and green stones in a flower bed near the Ernie Banks statue outside Wrigley to honor Michelle Malizzo Ballog and Bob Malizzo.
Ballog died at 39 in 2011 after lapsing into a coma when monitoring errors were made while she was under anesthesia. Her death led the family to become staunch advocates for hospital transparency and collaboration to fix hospital procedures that lead to mistakes.
Bob Malizzo died from illness — not medical error — last year, but he was passionate about working on the cause for his daughter.
“It’s more important now than ever to let people know that awareness they need to have and how dedicated doctors and nurses and caregivers and even janitors in hospitals are so dedicated to keeping people safe,” Barbara Malizzo said. “When people go through this, they realize. Otherwise, they take it for granted. It’s very important keep awareness up. What Dr. Mayer is doing is contributing to that.”
Said Chavez: “As difficult as it is, it’s something very important to carry on. That’s why we still do it. My sister was a very giving person and also an educator. I think of it as a testament to who she was, always trying to help people and see the positivity in things. It’s a nice way to honor her and allow her to continue to help people in keeping hospitals safer.”
Mayer had planned to start his journey May 22 with a walk from Miller Park in Milwaukee to a Cubs game at Wrigley, but baseball’s delay forced him to change plans.
After spending Sunday with his grandchildren in Deerfield, he’ll head to Detroit and Cleveland to continue his walk.
At the end of August, he said he will return to Chicago and walk from Wrigley Field to Guarantee Rate Field.
After listening to colleagues during the coronavirus outbreak, he said he became particularly motivated to raise awareness.
“I had to do something,” he said.
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