Colorado’s Project C.U.R.E. improving health care around the world | by
Inside a crowded public hospital for indigent children in Managua, Nicaragua, a 21-day-old baby lay beneath bright lights on a shiny new operating room table, recovering from surgery to repair a blockage in her heart. Around her, modern monitors assessed her vital signs, while sterile tubes fed her oxygen and drained fluids from her tiny lungs.
Had she arrived two years earlier, she would have found a Spartan facility, where several children shared one oxygen tank, feeding tubes were washed and reused, and modern surgical tools were non-existent. Under these conditions, “this baby would have died,” says her surgeon, Eduardo Da Cruz, a pediatric cardiologist with the international nonprofit Surgeons of Hope, which performed nine heart surgeries in January at the hospital. “Without all that equipment, we couldn’t have done anything for her.”
The 3-week-old patient is among the millions worldwide to have benefited from the work of Project C.U.R.E., a nonprofit born in 1987 in the Evergreen garage of local real-estate-developer-turned-philanthropist James Jackson. Twenty-four years later, it is the world’s largest distributor of donated medical supplies and equipment to developing nations, boasting a 60,000-foot warehouse in Centennial, 18 full-time employees, 10,000 volunteers, and collection centers in a dozen cities.
Volunteers pack up two semi-truck-trailer-sized loads each week, cramming them with roughly $400,000 worth of supplies that have been opened but never used, or are expired or outdated. Thus far, shipments have been sent to 120 countries, from the genocide-ravaged jungles of Rwanda to the Tsunami-battered shores of Indonesia to the makeshift hospitals of post-earthquake Port au Prince. In 2009 alone, Project C.U.R.E. delivered $37 million in medical treasures that might have gone to waste.
“To see that these things are actually getting into the hands of people who need them — and are saving lives across the world — is really gratifying,” says Linda Kanamine, vice president of public affairs for Colorado hospital network HealthONE, which donates tens of thousands in unused medical supplies to Project C.U.R.E. annually. Kanamine recently spent 10 days traveling with the group in Cuba to witness just what became of those donations. “We went to one hospital that had just received a container ship full of surgical and medical supplies and crutches. They told us we were helping to keep their doors open one more year. It was really powerful.”
The early years
It was 1987 when James Jackson came to the stinging realization of just how much American health-care supplies go to waste while people overseas are suffering from want. He was traveling in Brazil when his interpreter asked him to drop by a local clinic. There, he found one doctor, working out of a dilapidated house and turning away person after person due to his lack of supplies.
“He had a rusty exam table and a box of old bandages. That was about it,” recalls today’s president of Project C.U.R.E., Doug Jackson. “It tore my father’s heart out. He promised to help.”
In the early days, the senior Jackson spent 190 days of the year in developing countries, negotiating such minute details as how to get a semi-truck trailer full of supplies up a crumbling, mud-soaked road in a the highlands of Djibouti, Africa — or how to bypass the Mafia in Romania in order to safely deliver supplies to needy clinics. The rest of the time, he was back in America, knocking on doors of hospital administrators, asking for donations, and storing them in his garage.
Once the operation had grown exponentially, James Jackson retired (he’s writing a book about his travels) and passed the torch to son Doug, a former lawyer and finance professor who reluctantly took the job in 1998.
“I said I will help you for six months. That was 12 years ago,” recalls Doug, who is now 47.
A bounty of supplies
Walk through Project C.U.R.E.’s impressive 60,000 square-foot warehouse today and you find a mind-boggling array of salvaged bounty: Row after row of towering shelves are neatly stacked with wheelchairs, hospital beds, and crutches. A line of discarded $10,000 X-ray machines awaits inspection and rebirth. Nearby, neatly organized bins overflow with shiny stainless steel surgical instruments — some worth more than a year’s salary for a doctor in a developing country. And near the front door, large plastic bags from area hospitals bulge with surgical tubes, sterile dressing, and rubber gloves that are all labeled with expiration dates that have rendered them useless here.
“Everything in America has an expiration date. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it, but it gets pitched nonetheless. Meanwhile, R and D is so fast that equipment that was state-of-the-art five years ago may need to be replaced today,” notes Doug Jackson. “We want the best of the best in health care here, and the byproduct is we have lots of extra stuff.”
In 2007, Sky Ridge Medical Center became one of the first Colorado hospitals to put grey Project C.U.R.E. bins on each of its surgical floors and ship them off to Project C.U.R.E. twice a week. In 2009, it donated $20,000 in supplies.
“When a doctor is going in to surgery, the nurse lays out all the equipment on the sterile field and if for some reason the doctor doesn’t use a particular instrument, we can’t reuse it,” explains Dave Presba, supply chain director for Sky Ridge.
In recent years, Project C.U.R.E. has also donated such big-ticket items as an entire heart catheterization lab to a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; a complete open-heart surgery suite to a hospital in India; and a hospital full of pediatric equipment for Surgeons of Hope, which launched its new surgical program in Nicaragua in December 2008.
“In many of these countries, they are literally cleaning off their used bandages so they can be reused,” says Charles Nutting, DO, an interventional radiologist at Sky Ridge Medical Center who has done surgical work in Cambodia and Albania and who also volunteers sorting supplies for Project C.U.R.E. “The resources that Project C.U.R.E. supplies can have a huge impact.”
When news of a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti buzzed through on Doug Jackson’s Blackberry on January 10, the organization broke into action within hours, its first load leaving the next day. By February 1, it had sent eight loads to Haiti, prompting some in the organization to worry that their supplies for other countries might dry up. But as Doug Jackson puts it, fate has been known to step in where Project C.U.R.E. is concerned.
“I’d like to take credit for all of this, but I think a huge part of it is providential,” he says, walking through a warehouse packed with supplies and busy volunteers. “My dad was lying in bed in Africa once, worried that there would come a time when we would run out, and an almost audible voice said to him, ‘If you empty the warehouse, we will fill it up again.’ … We have never been empty.”
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