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Dennis Quaid Protects Children From Health Disasters

Dennis Quaid is taking aim at improving children's health.
By John Morgan, Spotlight 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 green.

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 related.

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.

Life saving

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 were available.

"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 Pie.

"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 here.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 6/24/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/24/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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