Dennis Quaid Protects Children From Health Disasters
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
is taking aim at improving children's health.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Dennis Quaid calls his new movie, The Day After Tomorrow, "the ultimate
disaster movie ever made." But Quaid wasn't worried about the Memorial Day weekend's
opening box office. A far more important problem concerns the leading man -
the health of the world's children.
"I believe if you save one little soul you save the world," Quaid says. "I've
worked for 20 years or so with a charity called the International Hospital for
Children in New Orleans. We go down to Central America and identify children
who need medical attention or surgeries that they can't get in their country
and bring them back to the United States for treatment."
On June 4-6, Quaid will be pitching in to help IHC by literally going for the
That's when his second annual golf tournament -- the Jiffy Lube/Dennis Quaid
Charity Classic in Austin, Texas, will tee off. Expected to compete in the golfing
weekend are Hollywood linksters Keanu Reeves, Luke Wilson, Greg Kinnear, Frankie
Muniz and Leslie Nielsen. Quaid's band The Sharks will perform with help from
Don Felder of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac's Billy Burnette. The fundraiser
will also benefit three local charities - the Austin Children's Shelter, Any
Baby Can, and the Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.
But unlike many Hollywood philanthropists, Quaid isn't content to simply host
chic fundraisers. The 50-year-old star of last year's Far from Heaven
actually travels to Central America to help IHC.
"One of the things we have been doing is building clinics in these little villages
where they have no medical attention at all," Quaid explains. "Last trip I went
to Belize, and we built and opened a clinic there. It is really gratifying to
do, because I see where the money is going and how it is helping these little
kids. It puts a face on it - I can see that we are really making a difference,
because the child who needs help is standing right there in front of me."
Quaid's involvement with IHC began by a chance meeting in his own time of need.
"I met Dennis by making a house call when he was in New Orleans," recalls Mayer
J. Heiman, a physician in private practice who is the president and founder
of IHC in New Orleans, Louisiana. "He said if there's ever anything I can do
to help, please call me. So I did. Six weeks later I called him at 9 o'clock
at night in California and asked if he could come to Honduras the next day.
He had only met me that one time, but he showed up the next day and we went
and got a sick child and brought her back to the US."
Far from Heaven
If Quaid's keeping his word and his commitment to helping surprises you, it
shouldn't says Heiman.
"Dennis works like a Marine when he's with us on these trips," Heiman reports.
"He carries sick children, loads trucks, moves supplies, and helps us transport
kids. He is 100% hands on. That's very uncommon. He has a gift with children
and treats every single one of them with TLC."
And Heiman says that never have so many children needed care. And like Quaid's
new movie, Mother Nature doesn't seem to be helping matters.
An irony not lost on Heiman is the fact that Day After Tomorrow opens
less than 48 hours after a major tropical storm caused devastating flooding
in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, so far killing 860 people.
"We will be sending medical supplies immediately to the Dominican Republic,
and we hope to include Haiti if possible," Heiman says. "This is something we've
been expecting. The hurricane season is projected to be very severe this year.
One of the first people I will call when they start to hit is Dennis. I'll call
him at home and ask if he's free to help us. And if he is, he will join one
of our teams."
And while natural disasters like hurricanes can be linked directly to global
climate changes, another serious medical problem - asthma -- might be similarly
Experts predict that increases in global temperature will likely cause more
erratic weather patterns as well as drought, famine and increases in respiratory
illnesses like asthma.
"Asthma is sweeping through these countries," Heiman says. "It went so quickly
from 'Hey, this is a problem' to 'This is a disaster.' I think the increases
in air pollution are definitely part of the problem. And genetics certainly
play a role as well."
In the US, an estimated 6.3 million children have asthma, a chronic respiratory
illness characterized by symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness,
and coughing. A recent report by the Global Initiative for Asthma estimates
that worldwide approximately 300 million people have asthma and that another
100 million will have the disease by 2025.
While not nearly as dramatic as Day After Tomorrow, global warming and
air pollution are combining to negatively impact human health. Higher temperatures
create inversion layers that trap pollutants in the air basins near human populations.
Studies now indicate that air pollutants, such as ozone particles, NO2, and
acid vapor, may actually cause asthma. Previously, experts believed that air
pollution only exacerbated asthma.
In the US, approximately 5000 people die of asthma annually. The Global Initiative
for Asthma reports that asthma accounts for about 1 in every 250 deaths worldwide.
Many of the deaths would be preventable if proper maintenance and medication
"Can you imagine your child not being able to breathe and you have nothing
to give them," asks Heiman, who has three children with asthma. "I have had
several patients who have told me their siblings died because they didn't have
an inhaler. If you gave me 1000 nebulizers a day for children with asthma, it
would still not be enough. We need more asthma inhalers and medications every
week. We can't keep up with the need."
Heiman has advice for people fortunate enough to have emergency inhalers
"Never go anywhere without your inhaler," Heiman cautions. "No matter how long
it has been since your last asthma attack. Leaving your inhaler at home won't
do you any good."
Doing 'good' is Quaid's sole focus next week when his charity tournament will
tee off in Austin.
"It's really gratifying to get out there and identify the kids in these countries
who need our help," Quaid says. "There are lots of them out there. There's no
shortage. We can and should do something. I just hope people will support our
work with these great charities."
Heiman adds that support doesn't have to be monetary.
"We badly need medical supplies and equipment," Heiman states. "We desperately
need volunteers to help after there has been a hurricane. We also are greatly
in need of a full time person to make phone calls to hospitals and clinics and
help us keep track of everything."
Keeping track of Quaid is getting more difficult as well. The actor is busy
finishing work on a new film called Synergy from the makers of American
"It's a comedy with hopefully no redeeming social value," Quaid jokes. "We
need those once in a while. Everything can't be so serious all the time."
For more information about The International Hospital for Children, click
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Created: 6/24/2004  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/24/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.