Originally created 08/12/02

Changed lives give purpose to couple



It is the child they found abandoned in the garbage dump outside Manila who found a new life in an orphanage. It is the 14-year-old in Myanmar who not only recovered from pneumonia but also found a new inspiration for her life.

It is not so much the treatment of thousands of patients around the world that Ted and Sharon Kuhn remember. It is how they are able to change that world for those patients.

"Life transformed" is how Ted Kuhn describes their work, which began with a medical mission in 1973 in Bolivia. They now serve as medical co-directors for Mission to the World, a nonprofit medical outreach of the Presbyterian Church of America. The group is currently working in 17 countries.

As the Kuhns spoke in the living room of their Evans home, their bags stood near the door, already packed for Africa. On this trip, they will provide comfort and hospice-style care to AIDS victims in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

They have been on so many trips that they don't bother counting them anymore. But it is not hard for them to remember what they liked on the first trip that spurred them on to greater service.

He had just completed medical school at Penn State, and she somehow got permission to take five months off during her second year there.

"We really felt that was what the Lord wanted us to do with our lives," she said. They went on to become missionaries in Bangladesh during a time of turmoil and famine in that war-torn country.

Now, the Kuhns work as part-time faculty at Medical College of Georgia. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, and he is an associate professor and director of the International Medicine program in the Department of Emergency Medicine. They make six to eight medical mission trips a year.

Why they do it can be seen in the photos Ted Kuhn pulls from a stack on the coffee table.

"This is garbage," he said, holding up what looks like a vacation snapshot of a giant mound of garbage. "You see people all over the garbage dump. They live there, and they scavenge. And we found this little kid. His name is John Mark, and he'd been abandoned there in the garbage."

After meeting the boy and taking his picture, Ted Kuhn went further into the dump to treat a man who was dying.

"I couldn't sleep all night long," he said. "This little kid's face kept coming back to me over and over."

The Kuhns went back and found him and brought him to the clinic where they were seeing patients.

"He put on some new clothes, and we gave him Kentucky Fried Chicken," Ted Kuhn said. "There's a picture of us cleaning his ears out. Poor kid didn't know what was happening to him."

The Kuhns had a check for $135 that had been raised by special-needs children in Judy Tobin's class in the School of Talent Development at Augusta Christian Schools. It was enough to get the boy into a center for street children, where the other boys adopted him as a brother.

"I thought it was absolutely wonderful," Mrs. Tobin said. "I really want to get back in the classroom and tell them (where the money went). I can hardly talk about it without crying."

There is also the story of the 14-year-old girl dying of pneumonia who somehow fought back with IV medication.

"I never, ever in my wildest dreams thought she would survive," Ted Kuhn said. When she looked better, he told her she had been given a second chance at life.

"She said she was going to make a promise with me from now on that she would get an education and that she would try to be a doctor or a nurse," he said. "And that she would try to do the same thing that I did for her to someone else.

"I believe she will keep her promise. I bet she will become a doctor."

Drs. Walter "Ted" and Sharon Kuhn

Ages: 53

Educations: Penn State University College of Medicine

Positions: Medical co-directors of Mission to the World; he is associate professor and director for the International Medicine program in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Medical College of Georgia; she is assistant professor in the Department of Family at MCG

Family: son, Josh; daughter, Lydia

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.