Sales reps show mercy and compassion to neighbors

April 1, 1999
Laura Ramos

Pharmaceutical Representative

Representatives volunteer their time and effort.

When families are faced with the tragedy of having to evacuate their homes during an emergency, they only have time to pack the essentials: a little money, food and clothing. But many are forced to leave behind dogs, cats and other pets that are turned away from emergency shelters, thus adding to the family's sense of loss.

That's why Florida resident Jay Lawyer got up from watching the news one night last summer, drove to a nearby shelter and spent the next week helping local authorities run a unique refuge for families and pets escaping the brutal fires that scorched thousands of acres in his state.

Lawyer and his wife, Maureen, responded to a televised call for volunteers to work at the first animal and people shelter in the country, run by Volusia County animal control officials. Both avid pet lovers, the Lawyers wanted to help out in any way they could. Within hours of arriving at the facility, which was set up at the county fairgrounds, the Astra trainer was the top civilian running the shelter.

Lawyer assigned jobs to the other 30 volunteers - from walking the animals to catering food for the people. "One of the advantages of being a trainer is that you learn how to determine people's strengths and weaknesses," said Lawyer. "If someone has an aptitude, give them what they are good at."

Lawyer also had to secure food and other necessities for the evacuees. Doing so meant making dozens of pleas on the radio and television for items such as a refrigerator, toilet paper and dog food. That's when his sales skills came in handy. "The videotaped role-playing we do in training helped me be articulate, focused and precise in front of the camera when I was making my pleas," he said. After Lawyer went on the air, the community rallied to help out. A rep from another drug company brought dinner for 60 people one night, and a local veterinarian donated his time and resources to treat sick animals.

During the fires, more than 150 people and 300 pets found sanctuary at the shelter. "We had dogs, cats, birds, iguanas, rabbits and turtles," said Lawyer, who has three dogs of his own.

Lawyer's primary concern was keeping the area sanitary. "No one had ever done this before, and there were critics who didn't think it would work," he said. Luckily, Lawyer had experience working in a doctor's office and knew how to maintain a sterile field. "We made sure we didn't let the animals anywhere near the food and kept them in an enclosed area. We also asked the evacuees to wash their hands thoroughly after handing their animals."

Lawyer was amazed at the evacuees' morale, which remained high even as they were faced with the possibility of losing their homes. "We attributed it to people being happy to be in a clean facility where they could keep their animals," he said.

In the evenings during the crisis, the Lawyers would return to their home in Volusia County, which wasn't evacuated but was still threatened. Lawyer had to set up sprinklers on his roof to prevent ashes in the air from igniting his house. Luckily, the Lawyer's home survived unscathed.

By the time the evacuees could return to their neighborhoods the following week, Lawyer and animal control specialists had developed a detailed set of procedures they could share with others. Because the shelter was such a success, counties across the nation are using it as a model for similar facilities.

When the crisis was all over, the Lawyers agreed that volunteering at the shelter was the most rewarding act they've ever done. "There's nothing like doing a service for people who are truly in need," Lawyer said. "People came to our door at the shelter scared out of their wits, and five days later they walked out beaming because they were happy. When you're a volunteer, you learn not to expect fame and glory. You just do it because you can do it."

On April 19, Tim Hamburger turns 33 and will run the biggest race of his life, the Boston Marathon. But his 26.2 mile race pales in comparison to the challenge that his young friend Matt Lewis faces: battling a relapse of chronic myelogenous leukemia.

The Pratt institutional healthcare representative met Matt last year at a meeting of the local chapter of the Leukemia Society of America. That's when Hamburger, a runner since his teenage years, became involved in a program sponsored by the society that provides coaching and fund-raising support to marathon runners and walkers.

Hamburger had three goals in mind: raise money, complete the San Diego Marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon. But it had been seven years since Hamburger had raced, and nearly 15 years since his only marathon. To help him prepare for the event, the Leukemia Society gave him a "patient hero." It was Matt, a 12-year-old neighborhood boy who was then in his third year of remission after a bone marrow transplant.

Last June, Hamburger ran the San Diego Marathon in honor of Matt and completed it in 3 hours and 6 minutes, qualifying for the Boston Marathon. With the help of friends, coworkers and family, Hamburger raised more than $7,000 for leukemia research and patient care, making him the top fundraiser for the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia chapter of the Leukemia Society of America.

When Hamburger trained for the San Diego race, Matt often ran alongside of him during part of his workout. During that time, they became close friends. "I have saved every message Matt has left on my answering machine," Hamburger said. Unfortunately, Matt has been unable to help Hamburger train for the Boston Marathon since his relapse. "Matt is a huge inspiration for me of how people can face adversity and go on. I've never seen adults handle adversity like kids do. Even though he is not able to physically train with me, I know Matt is with me in spirit every step of the way."

Besides running for his local chapter of the Leukemia Society of America, Hamburger also acts as a team mentor for new runners and walkers in the fundraising program, called Team in Training. He is a liaison for the group and passes out teddy bears and words of comfort to cancer patients and their families at a local hospital.

Come April 19, it won't be the pain and fatigue of running that will be on Hamburger's mind - it will be Matt, his patient hero and friend. "Matt is the reason I continue to run," Hamburger said. "I've gotten so much out of it, including a real respect for life. That's all the thanks I'll ever need."

If you are interested in sponsoring Tim Hamburger's efforts in the Boston Marathon, you can mail a check (made payable to the Leukemia Society of America) to Tim Hamburger, 8102 Club Side Drive, Mars, PA 16046. All donations are 100% tax deductible.

In a country like Haiti, where schoolchildren have to break up a standard pencil into three pieces so that there are enough writing tools to go around, the health care picture is even bleaker. Most villages don't have electricity or clean water, making conditions ripe for infectious diseases.

That's why doctors and nurses called on Nichandra Gray, a former rep who is now a regional field trainer with Bayer Pharmaceuticals, St. Charles, MO. Last year, when Gray was still a rep, a doctor explained to her his mission to provide health care to Haitians desperately in need of surgery. He then asked if Gray could secure some samples of Cipro, Bayer's antibiotic. Gray answered his request with eight cases of samples - 17,218 tablets - which would be enough for more than 1,000 patients to complete a course of therapy.

"Haiti is a very poor country, and they don't have any access to drugs except through missions like these," Gray said.

Gray's involvement escalated when doctors and nurses asked her to join them on the mercy mission. Gray accepted the challenge and spent 10 personal days in Haiti last January, training health care workers to use the medication.

At the Hospital de Bienfaisance in Pignon, Gray explained her product, observed surgeries and stocked pharmacy shelves, which were devoid of any other antibiotics. She also helped fit patients for glasses, a skill she learned while working in an optometrist's office during college. Another skill she brought to the medical team was her ability to speak French, one of two main languages spoken in Haiti.

At the hospital, Gray worked alongside renowned surgeon Guy Deve Theodore, M.D., and recruited him to speak at Bayer later this year.

Donna Shanks, a sales representative for Bayer, nominated Nichandra for PR Salutes. "Nichandra is dedicated to being the best sales rep she can with the tools she is given," Shanks said. "This trip demonstrates her determination to make a difference." PR

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