Stanford doctor returns from Sahara

October 14, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Bay Area man is back home from a life-changing experience on the other side of the world. He's a doctor, who went to the Sahara Desert to watch over marathon runners, but that's not the part of the experience that changed his life.

They ran 50 miles a day, for 111 days across the Sahara Desert. While three men made history.

"There was a crisis every day," said Dr. Jeff Peterson, M.D.

Jeff Peterson made sure they lived through it. The Stanford emergency room doctor's job was to take care of the runners and the crew that filmed the 4,300-mile-long journey.

"It will be a life changing experience not just for the three runners, but for everyone involved with this journey," said a narrator in the documentary "Running The Sahara."

True to the documentarian's word Dr. Peterson returned to work a changed man, because while in the desert, he became the Sahara's only doctor.

"I was setting up a mini medical tent to take care of the runners and I would find 10-12 mothers and children with five camels tied up to our land cruisers, waiting for medical care," said Dr. Jeff Peterson.

Word of a doctor in the desert spread and nomads followed the caravan's tire tracks daily.

"Ninety percent of them had never seen a physician before, had had no medical care and a good percentage of them had never seen a white person before," said Dr. Peterson.

Including a 18 month old who'd been badly burned by boiling water.

"Very, very, sick had abscesses from his knees down, not likely to live without antibiotics and the appropriate treatment of the wounds. And that affected me the most," said Dr. Peterson.

On that day, the boy lived and the Sahara Relief Project was born. It's Peterson's commitment to building clinics and hospitals in the Sahara.

"Jeff brought medicine to places it hadn't previously existed," said Dr. Daniel Grossman, a Stanford resident and project volunteer. "If I can help Jeff build a sustainable model of health care in Sahara and Africa, then I think I've done a little good thing during my residency."

Dr. Peterson is keeping his promise to the people of the Sahara to one day return to the desert, by going back in January.


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