[Hpn] A physician for the forgotten;Indianapolis Star;7/29/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 30 Jul 2001 10:18:48 -0400
Sunday, July 29, 2001
Indianapolis Star <http://www.indystar.com>
[Indianapolis, Indiana, USA]
City & State section
A physician for the forgotten
By Celeste Williams
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
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,"
"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
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
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
• 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
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com/intl.asp