Physician Spotlight: David Vanderpool, MD
Physician Spotlight: David Vanderpool, MD

Dr. David Vanderpool dispenses hope and smiles as he works with those impacted by poverty and disaster.
There is little cause for hope for the 20 million people living in modern day Mozambique.

It’s a country where the average life expectancy is only 34 years; 60 percent of children die before reaching the age of five, succumbing to HIV-AIDS, malaria and childhood diseases that are seldom fatal when vaccines are available.

But Nashville’s David Vanderpool, MD, is determined to bring hope, medical care and more.

As medical director for Mobile Medical Disaster Relief (MMDR), a Brentwood-based charity, he makes three or four onsite visits annually to northern Mozambique and takes donations of medicine and volunteers to the local clinic and mobile medical unit that MMDR operates.

The mobile unit “a Land Rover of the African variety, not the Brentwood type,” he quipped, is specially outfitted with a stretcher, generator and medical refrigeration to carry medicine and medical personnel to extremely remote areas.

Vanderpool refuses to be discouraged by the overwhelming scope of the challenge his organization faces.

“We expect to see the numbers improve significantly with basic medical treatment that includes the introduction of a vaccination program, well-baby care, prenatal care, and a basic disease prevention program,” Vanderpool explained.

The clinic is staffed with two full-time physicians and six nurses, who hail from such faraway places as China, Australia, and Belgium.

To better equip healthcare workers on site in Africa, MMDR has partnered with the Belmont School of Nursing to create a nursing curriculum under the direction of Ruby Dunlap, EdD, APRNC, associate professor at Belmont University, that will provide nursing training to Mozambique women, giving them skills they can use to support their children.

Vanderpool is convinced the nursing program will provide a means of education and independence for local women.

“This is not a culture where men act responsibly,” Vanderpool said. “It’s difficult for us to understand how hard it is for these women, who live under brutal conditions in mud huts with thatched roofs and no running water, to care for their families.”

Vanderpool wasn’t headed to Africa when he started out as a medical missionary. He was en route to Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, traveling with his oldest son to Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. During this time of crisis, Mississippi was the only state granting emergency recognition to out-of-state physicians. There, Vanderpool converted a tractor/trailer into a mobile emergency room. He returned several times to deal with maladies from alligator bites to tetanus shots.

Katrina’s impact moved Vanderpool to establish Mobile Medical Disaster Relief to facilitate medical care in places of need. MMDR is now a full 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated from Vanderpool’s medical practice. An anonymous donor covers MMDR’s overhead expenses; all money raised goes directly to medical relief work.

Vanderpool serves as medical director of the organization. Karen Joy Thomas, director of operations, makes “sure that all balls don’t hit the ground at the same time.”

MMDR plans to build one medical facility/clinic every year in an area of need. For this summer’s project, Vanderpool returned to Mozambique to oversee the beginning stages of construction for a much-needed hospital and nursing school. This facility will be a simple prototype that can be duplicated in other parts of the world. MMDR is studying future sites in Nairobi, Kenya, India, the Ukraine, Nigeria and China for subsequent facilities.

Born and raised in Texas, Vanderpool earned an undergraduate degree in biology at Abilene Christian University and his medical degree at Texas Tech University School of Medicine. He trained as a vascular surgeon and completed two surgical residences at Baylor University Medical Center, in the ER at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He has been in practice since 2000 at Lavé MD, a treatment and research center in Brentwood that specializes in treating varicose veins, spider veins and sun-damaged skin.

Vanderpool’s wife, Laurie and their three children — David, 21, John, 17, and Jacklyn, 14 — have all participated in MMDR work. David, a college student, designed a micro-economic stimulus program for the widows in this often-violent country. MMDR provides sewing machines for the widows, who use them to make distinctive native purses that MMDR purchases from them to sell in this country. (See related story on page 3.)

All profits from the sale of the purses are returned to the widows to buy fabric to make clothes for the more than 800 orphans in their area.

Vanderpool said one of the most touching parts of this cycle is that African women are dumbfounded that American women would want something that they created. MMDR plans to sell the purses at fair trade stores, adding leather tags that tell the story of the community. “It’s amazing how profoundly the lives of these women can be changed by the sale of a purse that required so little effort on our part,” he commented.

Vanderpool doesn’t sugarcoat the issue of safety in the areas deep in the bush country where MMDR works. Last Christmas, a local tribal chief arrested Vanderpool and his party. They were held in jail overnight.

“It was disconcerting and clearly a question of showing who was in control,” he said.

Vanderpool hopes to involve others in his mission work. “We can help folks who can’t help themselves,” he said.

August 2008