At around 10:40 a.m. Friday morning, Dr. David Mayer found his way to the front of the Maryland Hospital Association office in Elkridge, marking the completion of another morning trek. This one covered 8.5 miles — all for a cause for which he’s persistently advocated for nearly two decades.
In prior years, Mayer, a 67-year-old Columbia resident who is the executive director of MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety as well as the founder of Patient Safety Movement Foundation, hosted meetings and accepted speaking engagements to help put an end to preventable harm for patients and healthcare workers in hospitals.
This year, he scrapped the meetings and microphones and instead put on training shoes, throwing his second passion — baseball — into the mix.
Mayer, a Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan, has been driving from city to city and going on walks to Major League ballparks. On Saturday, his 9-mile walk through Baltimore — from Canton to Fells Point to Federal Hill — will wrap up at Camden Yards at around 10 a.m. It will mark his 11th major league stop.
Counting his training work that started in February and visits to 10 minor league teams in the Cactus League in Arizona, Mayer has covered 1,100 miles.
“It’s all about raising awareness about the third-leading cause of death in this country,” Mayer said. “I get frustrated holding another meeting or giving another talk in England or wherever I’m invited to talk. I said I’m just going to start walking and maybe that will get the attention of people who may see it through articles, so people understand that there’s a serious issue here that we can help and make better.”
A press release that outlined Mayer’s country-wide challenge stated more than 200,000 people die unnecessarily in U.S. hospitals each year, ranking behind heart disease and cancer. Worldwide, 4.8 million lives are lost each year.
At every stop, Mayer, who is joined by his wife, Cathy, leaves a painted stone with the name of someone who has died, honoring each with a moment of silence.
“So all those that we’re laying stones for and the thousands of people who die every year from preventable medical harm, we help and we see less of it and we improve on it,” Mayer said.
This way of advocating for the cause is equal parts exhausting and rewarding for the couple, much more the latter.
The night before every walk, Cathy makes sandwiches and packs the cooler with plenty of drinks and ice. She drives her husband to each starting point, walks the first two miles with him and then heads back to the car while he completes the walk. She drives to the finish line awaiting his arrival. Friends and supporters sometimes tag along or greet them at the end of each challenge.
“This has been a passion of his for 20 years,” said Cathy, a retired critical care nurse.
“This has been amazing. … We have a big ‘Patient Safety Movement’ banner that he carries into the stadiums at the end of the challenge to raise awareness about the whole thing.”
Friends, colleague and supporters often tag along and Crystal Morales, who has worked alongside Mayer at Medstar, enjoyed Friday’s jaunt through Howard County. They started the trek at the MedStar building they work at.
“Dave is exceptionally passionate about patient safety and I’ve been with Dave probably the past eight years with MedStar and that’s what they do, they put safety patient above everything else,” said Morales, the senior director for education at MIQS. “So it’s really important that we continue to honor the patients that we’ve lost — not just through MedStar but internationally — and keep walking because we have more work to be done and we can’t lose sight of that.”
On his sixth pair of training shoes, Mayer indeed carries on, having taken away a special experience from every stop with his biggest takeaway being the genuine kindness in the people he has come across.
At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, there was the statue of Pirate great Willie Stargell and a glimpse of the river. Despite no baseball, there was a buzz at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the surrounding restaurants and bars gave him a Wrigleyville vibe.
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The last time he was at Cleveland’s Progressive Field was 2016 for the Cubs’ Game 7 win over the Indians. For the walk, he wore a Cubs No. 27 Jason Kipnis jersey that he bought specifically for the occasion with the veteran second baseman a fan favorite when he played in Cleveland.
“I said ‘OK, I’m going to wear my Kipnis jersey all around the park’ and as I walked, a number of fans saw it, looked at it and said ‘Nice jersey, but he’d still look better in our No. 22.’ The fans in Cleveland were great,” he said.
Following Camden Yards, Mayer will head to Washington to visit Nationals Park. His goal is to hit all 30 ballparks with a trip to Florida, a return up the East Coast and visits to parks in California and Seattle remaining. By the time his challenge is complete — aiming for February — he expects to log 2,543 miles.
So far, so good. Since the start, he’s only dropped seven pounds, the exercise enabling him to enjoy seconds of Cathy’s great cooking along with a glass of wine.
“I’m feeling great. Thank God, physically, I’m doing well,” he said. “Everyone asks ‘How’s your knees? How’s your ankles? How’s your hips?’ Everything is great. Sometimes mentally I’m tired and I get home and want to take a nap in the afternoon.”