Profession

Doctor offers medals to patients with mettle

An Indianapolis physician gathers finishing medallions from runners and gives them to patients dealing with severe illnesses.

By Damon Adams — Posted July 24, 2006

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The hospital room was dark and IV lines were snaking from his friend's body when Steven Isenberg, MD, paid a visit.

Dr. Isenberg was planning to share his elation and show off his finisher's medal, the reward for running more than 26 miles in Chicago's marathon. But his intentions changed when he saw his physician friend in a hospital bed, being treated for cancer.

Dr. Isenberg handed the medal to his colleague, whom he had treated previously for another form of cancer.

"I said, 'You're going through a hell of a lot more than I am,' " said Dr. Isenberg, 56, an otolaryngologist in Indianapolis. "I felt better giving him that than owning it myself."

The gift led to the start of Medals4Mettle, a charity Dr. Isenberg began last year to honor courageous patients. Marathon runners and other athletes donate finisher's medals, which are then given to patients to recognize their mettle in dealing with a serious illness, disability or other challenges.

"I've always felt it's a gift to run a marathon," Dr. Isenberg said. "Sometimes when I've run by, I've seen people in wheelchairs cheering for me. For those who can't do it, I felt it was something I could share with them."

He started running marathons about five years ago and has endured long-distance runs in places such as New York, Chicago and Boston. He's given seven of his eight marathon medals to patients.

"I had many patients I wanted to give a medal to. I needed more medals than I had myself," he said.

Now he collects medals from other runners and distributes them through an international network of physicians. Doctors can participate by running and donating their medals or by joining the network and giving donated medals to patients.

Dr. Isenberg said about 1,000 medals have been collected, including 200 from Chicago's marathon. Several hundred have been re-awarded.

G. Irene Minor, MD, isn't a marathoner, but she loved Dr. Isenberg's idea. He sent her some medals and she has presented two to her patients.

"I try to pick people who have a particularly hard time getting through their treatment," said Dr. Minor, a radiation oncologist in Indianapolis. "It helps them understand that you understand that they have had a hard time."

One patient was crying and struggling to get through treatment for throat cancer. Her attitude improved when Dr. Minor gave her a medal.

"It was amazing the difference in her from then on. She came in every day and showed her medal. It really changed her approach to her last days of treatment."

Physicians who want to donate medals or who would like to get medals for patients may e-mail Dr. Isenberg ([email protected]" target="_blank">link).

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External links

Medals4Mettle (link)

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