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Ellen Feldman Thorp ’74 never expected to assist in an operating room in Mongolia. She had no background in medicine, but as a volunteer for IVUmed she was needed.
“We were responsible for surgical record keeping as well as snacks and water bottles,” said Thorp, a former marketing and sales executive whose husband, Edward, also assisted in the hospital. “Beverages were a very important detail in a country where even the residents can’t drink unboiled water.”
IVUmed, a non-profit based in Salt Lake City, Utah, was formed to help children in developing countries suffering from kidney, bladder and genitalia problems. Today, its mission is twofold: to offer medical and surgical education to physicians and nurses and to provide urological care to children and adults worldwide. Thorp has worked as a volunteer since January 2008.
Her primary goal is to raise money and awareness of the cause, and she remains passionate and motivated from seeing firsthand how people are benefiting from IVUmed’s work. When Thorp traveled to Mongolia in September 2008, she was deeply moved by the people, some of whom waited patiently all day, hoping to see one of the doctors.
“It just about broke my heart to see the sad faces of the children,” said Thorp.
By the end of her trip though, Thorp saw frowns turned into smiles as she did rounds in the hospital, visiting the recovering children. “Of course, it didn't hurt that we handed out stuffed animals, candy, coloring books and crayons,” she added.
Read Thorp's blog about the experience or listen to her speak about Mongolia.
Previously, Thorp volunteered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure for nine years beginning in 1998, serving in many roles including race chair. But as Komen grew, she sought out a smaller organization with more of a grassroots feel. Dr. Catherine deVries, a friend, pediatric urological surgeon and founder of IVUmed, introduced her to the non-profit.
“Ellen has added tremendously to our community outreach,” said deVries, “and her skills in the professional world are rare treasures for us.”
Thorp, who majored in Spanish at the College, hopes to use her language skills during a medical workshop with IVUmed and make her way back to Mongolia. Whichever opportunity presents itself first, she’ll continue to follow IVUmed’s motto – “Teach One, Reach Many.”
Said Thorp: “At the end of my life I want to simply be able to say, ‘I made a small difference.’”