[sidebar]Trish Blair, MD, at her nonprofit, A Call to Serve.
P atricia (Trish) Blair, MD, a co-founder of the American Association of Women Emergency Physicians (AAWEP), has died after a two-year battle with cancer. Trish was born in 1945 to an active military family, which must have made her into the amazingly gregarious, resourceful, and adaptive person she was.
She began her career as a trauma surgeon but fell in love with emergency medicine, practicing as faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine and chairing an emergency department at a Kaiser hospital, where she developed a trauma management system that was then adopted systemwide.
Trish was a cherished friend and mentor to me and to all the women in the American College of Emergency Physicians in the early 1980s. In 1985, she co-founded and was the first president of Women in Emergency Medicine (now AAWEP). She inspired other young women to leadership by hosting leadership training sessions, teaching effective communication and speaking skills, developing various awards, instilling a sense of service capability and entitlement, and honoring all the newly-minted women diplomates of the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) with a networking dessert reception each year after the ACEP Council meeting. It was so scrumptious that no leader could resist attending. The ABEM president and a prominent politician usually spoke at these events. We knew this strategy was working upon receipt of a huge bouquet of flowers from an ACEP president who had regrettably missed the event.
Present generations of women ACEP members may have no clue why things like AAWEP exist; they understandably believe that they just do! Yet, of course they wouldn’t had it not been for the vision, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and persistence of people like Trish. We might have just a few soft committee chair(wo)manships, no female Council speakers, only a couple of token ACEP Board members, and no Board officers if she hadn’t had the idea to form the organization that taught young women in ACEP that there is such a thing as female leadership in organized medicine.
Trish managed to secure sponsorship for everything she did. I have never known anyone who could accomplish so much for others simply by asking those in a position to give in a way they could not refuse. She started with that smile that brought out the best in everyone. She taught us all that, “If you don’t ask, the answer is no!”
After the Chernobyl disaster and Armenian earthquake prompted Trish, other ACEP members, and others abroad to form an international organization (now the International Federation for Emergency Medicine), she visited the former Soviet Republic of Georgia as a side trip from a leadership exchange program to Russia in 1989. The Georgian physicians immediately adopted her as their own. Georgians consider all foreigners as gifts from God, but Trish, with her Irish looks and appeal and amazing problem-solving capabilities, became almost a goddess to the Georgian medical community that was in dire straits during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
En route home, we took up a collection to establish the Society for the International Advancement of Emergency Medical Care, the predecessor to Emergency International, later the International Section of ACEP, and to procure fax machines for doctors in Russia and Georgia who had no other way to receive emerging medical literature or communications from the West. We sponsored three Russian and one Georgian physician to the ACEP Scientific Assembly in Washington, D.C. On a return trip to the region in 1990, we became honorary members of the newly-established Georgian Medical Association.
In 1991, a fax arrived addressed to Trish from the Georgians. It read, “Our patients are dying. We have no medicine. Will you help us help them?” This was followed by 21 pages listing urgent medical needs. Without a second thought, Trish started contacting medical suppliers and quickly amassed 60 tons of medical supplies in a warehouse in Santa Clara, California. She managed to get the Missouri Air National Guard to fly the supplies to Georgia. However, this was only a fraction of what was needed. Trish did not see this as a one-time humanitarian endeavor but rather envisioned assisting in the creation of sustainable health care for the country. She took leave from her employment and remained in Georgia for four years as the resident American, receiving 20 subsequent shipments of lifesaving medical and humanitarian aid. The Soviet Union had fallen in 1991, and there wasn’t an American embassy in Georgia. In 1992, Trish incorporated a nonprofit, A Call to Serve (ACTS, www.acalltoserve.org), that became the focus of the rest of her life. Her vision for ACTS was “people helping people build a free and peaceful world.”
Trish was an eloquent speaker. Organizers of a Boone County Medical Society gala dinner she attended (as a guest) in Missouri in 1994 were desperate when the keynote speaker was detained. With five minutes to prepare, she gave a heartfelt speech about the situation in Georgia, where the diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence to any child due to the lack of insulin. She related how she had acquired 35 tons of insulin that were to be trashed by the maker because the labels were upside down. This speech sparked a partnership with the medical society and the University of Missouri and its medical school in Columbia. In addition, this prompted a collaboration of a consortium of service organizations and churches in Columbia with the city and university in Kutaisi, Georgia, to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the newly established Republic of Georgia. Trish facilitated multiple professional exchanges, three iodized salt drives to address goiter and developmental problems related to iodine deficiency in the Georgian soil, and along with a Missouri pediatric endocrinologist, she established an educational summer camp for diabetic children in Georgia similar to the one he had established in Missouri. Some time before this, Trish came to my home and announced that a planeload of diabetic children was arriving in Washington, D.C., from Georgia and needed lodging. She hit the phones and within hours had found beds, blankets, and food for all of them.
Up until her death on November 18, Trish continued to facilitate a partnership with Rotary International, which began in 2014 to train and equip physicians, nurses, and midwives in Georgia’s poorest region to resuscitate and stabilize at-risk newborns. At the time of her last illness, she also was overseeing a shipment of dried soup mix from Breedlove Foods in Texas to its final destination in Tbilisi, Georgia, where it will help supply elderly residents with 10,000 meals a day for a year at 11 local soup kitchens.
Trish received many honors during her career, including the Boone County Medical Society’s Distinguished Physician of the Year Award in 2017; the White House Millennium Service to the Community Award; the Lions Clubs International Presidential Medal of Honor; and Rotary International’s highest honor, the Service Above Self Award.
A memorial service took place on Feb. 9, 2019, in Columbia. Part of Trish’s ashes will be spread over Georgia. The impact of true leadership is never lost and often lives far beyond those who live in the service of others.
Dr. Andrew is founder of MD Mentor.com, an online resource that assists physicians dealing with medical legal issues. She is a past ACEP Council Speaker and a co-founder of AAWEP and the Society for the International Advancement of Emergency Medical Care.