By Erika Webb
Since, at last check, there was no 24-hour Walmart Supercenter in Botswana, Dr. Jeffrey Blonder, interventional radiologist at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City, had to put on his thinking cap before making the 27-hour journey there Aug. 23.
He certainly didn't want to forget anything.
He was so well organized that his surgical cap, and the caps of those who would be helping his cause, were custom made from cheetah print fabric.
Dr. Blonder also arranged for the transport of a 55-pound portable ultrasound machine donated by Washington-based medical-device company SonoSite to assist in the diagnostic mission.
While there the doctor will join a handful of other volunteers as they help care for the animals, and learn more about life in the Kalahari desert -- an area of land one-and-a-half times the size of New Jersey, according to hospital spokeswoman Lindsay Rew.
"Through the Modisa Wildlife Project's volunteer program, Dr. Blonder will learn 'everything about Africa's wildlife, from the smallest beetle to the elephant', according to modisa.org," Ms. Rew explained in an email. "He will assist with the care and feeding of the animals currently in the preserve, and will help care for endangered big cats, including Sirga, a two-and-a-half year old lioness who was banished from her pride when she was a cub."
In addition to taking his medical training to assist local veterinarians as they diagnose injuries and illnesses in the animals, the portable sonogram device he procured will allow detection of abscesses, tumors, lymphoma and leukemia, giving the local vets another way to treat the animals, Ms. Rew said.
"SonoSite is the largest ultrasound company in the world," hospital PR Director Debi McNabb said. "For Dr. Blonder to reach out to them and for them to respond and supply the equipment, which has everything and anything he will need out in the field, is remarkable to me. They're doing what they can to help on a global level."
Brad McHugh is director of alternate channels and sales operations for FujiFilm SonoSite.
"FujiFilm SonoSite is happy to support Dr. Blonder," Mr. McHugh wrote in an email. "SonoSite's pioneering portable ultrasound technologies are used by clinicians for diverse clinical applications all over the world, including now in Modisa."
In Setswana, the local language of the area in central Botswana where the wildlife project work is being done, "Modisa" means guardian.
Modisa Wildlife Project founders Mikkel Legarth of Denmark and Valentin Gruener of Germany met on a wildlife farm in Africa in 2009 as volunteers, according to modisa.org.
"Their love and passion for African wildlife -- especially big cats -- made them fulfill their childhood dream of setting up a wildlife project with an emphasis on creating a bond between people and the wilderness," the website states. "By cooperating with leading researchers in Botswana and with the University of Texas at Austin, Modisa Wildlife Project has the unique opportunity to create positive changes in local communities which in turn will create a better understanding of and a brighter future for wildlife and the big cats of Botswana."
Dr. Blonder is passionate about the preservation of wildlife and the environment, Ms. McNabb explained, particularly the relationship of humans to the environment and how everything is woven together.
"He has a passion for the big cats, his main area of interest," she said, "and he believes that what we do directly impacts the world."
Through local and international involvement, and research contributions, the Modisa Wildlife Project promotes sustainability and enhanced biodiversity in the region, located just west of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, according to the website.
"Modisa also wants to raise awareness across the globe on the necessity of sustaining the natural ecosystems that ensure a brighter future for the wildlife in Botswana."
Before leaving, Ms. McNabb said, Dr. Blonder went to Walmart and bought the cheetah print fabric for his team's surgical caps. A Florida Hospital surgical center employee made the headgear and Dr. Blonder had each embroidered to read, "Florida Hospital Fish Memorial" along with each individual's name.
During his trip, Dr. Blonder also will learn, from native Bushmen, how to track; and one of his nights will be spent sleeping under the stars, with no artificial light from hundreds of miles, according to Ms. Rew.
For the past 35 years, Dr. Blonder has cared for patients in New York, Illinois and Florida, she noted. He moved to Orange City about a year-and-a-half ago to practice at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial.
"He's a special person," Ms. McNabb said.
Hometown News plans to tell our readers more about Dr. Blonder and his trip after he returns.