[Hpn] A physician for the forgotten;Indianapolis Star;7/29/01

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 30 Jul 2001 10:18:48 -0400


-------Forwarded article-------

Sunday, July 29, 2001
Indianapolis Star <http://www.indystar.com>
[Indianapolis, Indiana, USA]
City & State section
A physician for the forgotten

By Celeste Williams
Indianapolis Star
July 29, 2001

Dr. Tom Ledyard said it didn't feel like he was saying goodbye. But it 
definitely was a farewell. And almost like it was planned, they appeared, 
some seemingly out of nowhere like visions rising out of hot pavement.

Wednesday was his last day as the doctor for the Homeless Initiative 
Program's triage team, making rounds of homeless people on the streets, in 
the woods and under city bridges. The team includes social worker Mimi 
Walker and substance abuse counselor Donny Robinette.

He began his day by attending to an inebriated man under a bridge and ended 
it by driving a homeless mother and her two children to a shelter. In 
between, a man they call "Mississippi" threw his arms around Ledyard's neck 
in an exuberant greeting, and Bobby "the Mayor" Pyle reminisced about the 
time Ledyard removed several staples from his head.

Ledyard, 38, is embarking on a different kind of adventure now.

He and his wife, Robin, also a physician and director of the family practice 
residency program for Community Hospitals Indianapolis, leave for Kenya 
later this year to work in the Lalamba--Matoso Clinic. Their two daughters, 
Hannah, 11, and Jessica, 8, will go, too.

It is a move that he and his wife have planned for three years. Ledyard said 
he has come to a now-or-never moment. The answer: Now.

Ledyard is the mainstay for medical services for scores of people who 
otherwise wouldn't seek them out. These people who live on the city's edges 
are like Ledyard's family.

"When I first started going on the streets, there was no such thing as a 
doctor out here," says Robinette, an Army veteran who followed his alcohol 
and drug addiction to the streets, where he lived for five years. Now, with 
counseling certification and sobriety, Robinette has become Ledyard's right 
hand. He's worked for five years with the homeless program.

Like a scout, Robinette points out the trails of the underground. On this 
hot July day, as Ledyard drives, Robinette gestures out the windows. The van 
passes the rubble that was Market Square Arena: "Seventy-nine people were 
living in there." They pass two men on an Eastside corner. "There's Bill." 
They pass a police wagon, doors splayed open, a man in handcuffs. "That's 
'Cousin' Willie Wilson. PI (public intoxication) again."

They stop under a bridge on the Eastside nicknamed "Abraham's Camp" for one 
of its longtime residents. There, they rouse a woozy man dozing on a filthy 
mattress and wearing a large silver crucifix.

Jeff Beckman has trouble putting words together. It is hard to tell whether 
the admitted 36-year-old alcoholic is drunk or suffering from the effects of 
having "the livin' s - - - kicked outta me" in a fight over one of the 
coveted flattened mattresses.

"He wanted my bed," he says.

How long has he been there? "Oh, I don't know. ... Probably all summer ... 
or something," he says. "It's pretty cool up under here." The sounds of 
traffic roar overhead, and the Downtown skyline juts from a space between 
the weeds.

When they offer him water, Beckman exclaims, "Oh! Hey! Water! Thank you!" He 
quickly gulps down two bottles as if he's been in a desert. They leave a 
third bottle of spring water for the night.

Ledyard peers into Beckman's face as he answers questions about how he 
feels, then checks the skin on Beckman's back for irritation. Robinette 
talks to him about checking into a treatment program and makes him vow to 
not drink that night.

While he is talking, Ledyard is on his cell phone making the appointment. 
"You stay sober the rest of the day, and I'll come and see you tomorrow," 
Robinette says.

"I promise. I promise," Beckman says, reminiscing about a recent eight-month 
period when he was sober, with an apartment and a car. "I'm a better person 
than this," he says, gesturing at the trash that surrounds him. Then he 
calls out as the group leaves, "You guys are saviors!"

"No, just some people who care," Ledyard says, hoisting his backpack over 
his shoulder.

Ledyard said he has cared for a long time. Born in Hobart, one of seven 
children of a steelworker father and a mother who taught in special 
education, he remembers wanting to grow up to be a doctor.

He received an undergraduate degree in biology at Indiana University, then 
worked with children with mental handicaps. There he met Robin, an IU 
medical school graduate, who shared his passions and urged him on to pursue 

He did, graduating from Michigan State University's medical school.

After marrying and having two children, they came back to Indiana. At the 
time Ledyard took the job with the homeless program four years ago, he was 
offered a more lucrative position in Carmel. He chose to help the homeless, 
taking over from Dr. Mat Vega. While in residency, he heard Vega speak about 
working with the homeless and was intrigued.

And he remains so.

"Out here, you just do what you can to help people survive," Ledyard 
explains. Ultimately, he says, it is up to them to decide to take a hand 
that pulls them on the long and difficult journey back to life among the 
rest of society. And it is not so easy there, either.

"The odds are against it," Ledyard says of the chances that Jeff Beckman 
would stay sober long enough to be checked into treatment. But it was more 
important, he says, to continue to believe that he will. "You don't give up 
hope, ever."

Ralph Dowe, director of the program, said Ledyard is a unique physician and 
special man. It goes beyond his long, blond hair pulled into a ponytail, his 
jeans and T-shirts.

"I am a believer that people can be helped," Dowe says. "They are wounded 
and need to be healed. That's the kind of relationship all of the (program) 
staff has with all of our clients. I just hate to see Dr. Tom go. He just 
has that real commitment and passion. He is changing the way people look at 

Peter Kim, a physician from St. Vincent Hospital, will replace Ledyard, Dowe 

"I don't feel like it's done," Ledyard says when the long last day is over 
and he's back at the program offices. "Don't call it sad."

Then, he speaks in the second person, as if already trying to remove 
himself: "There are some lives you have seen, and you're wondering what's 
going to happen to those folks.

"But don't call it sad."

Contact Celeste Williams at 1-317-444-6367 or via e-mail at 


Tom Ledyard
 Age: 38
 Family: Wife, Robin, also is a physician and director fo the family 
practice residency program for Community Hospitals Indianapolis. They have 
two daughters, Hannah, 11, and Jessica, 8.
 College: Bachelor's degree in biology from Indiana University; Michigan 
State University medical school.
 Future plans: Ledyard and his family will travel to Kenya later this year 
to work at the Lalamba-Matoso Clinic.

The Homeless Initiative Program
 Started in 1987 with a staff of four people.
 Budget of $1.5 million, mostly from U.S. Department of Health and Human 
 As many as 3,500 people are homeless in Indianapolis on any given night.
 The program's triage team can be reached at 1-317-931-3055, Ext. 224.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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