ADA Volunteer John Baldridge Wins Honor for Work After Tornado
After last year’s tornado in Joplin, Mo., John Baldridge, MD, FACE, helped set up a temporary Diabetes Care Center.
When a devastating EF5 tornado blew through Joplin, Mo., last year, it caught residents completely off guard, leveling buildings, destroying the local hospital, killing 160 people, and injuring hundreds more. But immediately after, volunteers began pouring into the town to lend a hand. John Baldridge, MD, FACE, was one of them.
Baldridge, an endocrinologist in Fayetteville, Ark., and a fellow of the American College of Endocrinology, is no stranger to disaster response: He volunteered his services after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. As the president of the Northwest Arkansas American Diabetes Association, he sprang into action with staff from the Missouri-Arkansas field office to set up a temporary Diabetes Care Center for Joplin residents. In a strip mall on the perimeter of the devastation, Baldridge, along with Gretchen Shull, MD, and Sean Hamlett, MD, set up a temporary clinic to provide people in need with diabetes supplies, free of charge. He also traveled to shelters around the area to let people know about the clinic.
Baldridge was recognized for his efforts through the American Diabetes Association Chair’s Citation Award, the Association’s most prestigious honor for outstanding achievement within the diabetes community. Renee Paulsell, executive director of the Missouri-Arkansas field office, describes Baldridge as an “excellent ambassador” to more than 500 patients who visited the clinic. “He provided hugs, smiles, and just listened to the stories of survivors in addition to his medical care,” she says.
Former Association Chair of the Board John Griffin and CEO Larry Hausner lauded Baldridge’s efforts as a “true caregiver” in a time of emergency. They also noted that his involvement in the ADA, including his volunteer work with Tour de Cure®, American Diabetes Association EXPO®, and gala fund-raisers, demonstrates that he is clearly doing his part to make life better for people with diabetes.
The human connections, Baldridge says, were a big part of what made the clinic successful amid the devastation. “The hospital stood as a ghost-like structure, six stories high. There were curtains literally flapping in the breeze and the windows like a blank skull with empty orbits,” he says. But the tornado survivors were friendly, positive, and eager to interact with the clinic staff. During Baldridge’s days in Joplin, he met people who were ready to talk about maintaining or getting better blood glucose control in the midst of a natural disaster. He met with one family that stopped by for test strips, but stayed to talk about how each member of the family could improve his or her health. Another young woman stopped in for diabetes supplies, and despite having lost all of her belongings, left the volunteers smiling in response to her cheerful disposition.
Those encounters, Baldridge says, should be people’s lasting impressions. “It really made me think about why I’m in medicine,” he says. “It was more than medical issues; there were human issues we were [solving].”
Baldridge is quick to point out that several volunteers from the Missouri-Arkansas field office assisted at the clinic, and many more volunteers came from around the Midwest to help Joplin residents. Lori Bramlett, director of the Missouri-Arkansas field office, says Baldridge’s efforts stand out. “Dr. Baldridge is just a wonderful man. He’s just very engaged with wanting to help people with diabetes,” she says. “At the end of the day, that is what it’s all about for him: making sure he’s doing the best he can to provide for people with diabetes.”