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Med student from Buffalo will think globally during cross-country bike trip

Fourth-year Ohio State medical school student Ryan Campagna comes back to Buffalo every few weeks to visit his mom, Linda Morgan, in the Elmwood Village. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

At first blush, it might sound as if bunch of Ohio State fourth-year medical students got together in 2006 and started the annual Ride for World Health as a way to blow off steam and enjoy a coast-to-coast bike trip as a way to celebrate graduation.

That’s part of it, but it goes much deeper than that, said North Buffalo native Ryan Campagna, 25, subject of today’s “What are you Eating?” feature in WNY Refresh.

Campagna and about 20 fellow graduating med students will start the 50-day trip March 26, when their dip the rear tires of their bikes into the Pacific Ocean and set out toward Washington, D.C.

The contingent will make side trips in May to participate in their graduation ceremonies – about three-quarters of the students are from Ohio State – but along the way they’ll also do something the group considers at least equally important: they’ll spread the word about global health needs.

“On the way, we stop at high schools, medical schools and local community centers, and give lectures on global health while also fundraising,” Campagna told me. ...” It’s a time to see the country and raise money for a good cause. Last year, they raised over $100,000 and made a big impact on some organizations in the Third World.”

What does Campagna see as the three biggest international health issues?

“Access to care for very common problems, things you or I would go see a family practitioner about. Two – and it still will be an issue for decades to come – simple sanitation and nutrition. And three, basic surgical services. We talk a lot about the interventions we can do in the global health world with simple medications and checkups, but when you crunch the numbers, more people die from basic surgical diseases you can intervene on than a lot of these other causes put together.”

While he was studying biochemistry at Canisius College, Campagna had the chance to go to Costa Rica and Nicaragua for three weeks on a medical mission-style trip.

“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “When you go there and see such a large impact that small interventions can make, it’s always stuck in my mind that this is something that I want to do.”

Campagna will find out right about the time the bike trip starts where he will spend the next few years in his residency program. He also plans to pursue a master’s in public health – and spend a year or two abroad as part of that process.

“I think residency’s going to take me somewhere else, but eventually I’d like to come back and work at Roswell (Park Cancer Institute),” he said. “I want to go into thoracic oncological surgery. Roswell is the first place where I volunteered while I was at Canisius. It got me into medicine, and I would love to go back there and work.”

First he has a few more weeks of med school, and a bike trip to take.

He looks forward to spending several weeks with fellow health professionals bent on changing the world.

How might they be a part of the solution to such daunting issues?

“For us, it’s changing the paradigm that exists in the Third World, where medical students and physicians will drop in for two or three weeks at a time, then leave,” he said. “Although this is a good approach, we’d like to help organizations provide sustainable health in the Third World. If you look at our main beneficiaries (of the bike trip), they are organizations in some cities – for example, Haiti – that will have a presence there indefinitely, and that’s what we like, sustainable care.”

Campagna expects the first day of the bike trip to be the most challenging.

“We only ride 44 miles but we go up 4,800 feet,” he said. “It’s one of the most challenging hills we have on our ride. I think for most of us, it’s going to be most challenging the first two weeks. Even though we’ve been training all winter, it still kicks your butt.”

They’ll travel up to 90 miles a day, eating food bars to help give them energy and stopping every 5 to 30 miles for a break. He and several others on the ride also will spend many days doing lectures, which will tack on a couple of hours on the road.

After the bike trip, Campagna plans to return to Buffalo for a couple of weeks, to stay with his parents, Linda and Bryce Morgan, whom he visits every few weeks.

He’s improved his diet, but he’s still happy to sink his teeth into Buffalo pizza when he comes home. It tends to be much better than in Columbus.

“I managed to find a place that has a good pie – it’s right here on campus; it’s called Adriatico’s – but on average no, and I don’t even want to get into chicken wings. I do still eat them but usually I’m disappointed."

The food may be one reason he hopes one day to return home, but it’s not the most important one.

“It’s gotta be the people,” he said. “I still have a lot of roots here, we’re a community of neighbors and after spending the last three months looking at where I want to go to residency, coming back here and re-appreciating all the architecture and all it has to offer – especially in the Elmwood Village, where my parents live – you can get beautiful housing and a great cost of living, with great people."


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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