Extra Mile Pediatrics team out on a boat

Richmond Nonprofit Going the Extra Mile to Provide Pediatric Care in Central America

Talk about living your brand….

When Dr. Jeff Mapp co-founded (with his wife Kimball) a nonprofit dedicated to providing recurring pediatric care to underserved communities in Central America in 2018, he dubbed the nascent enterprise Extra Mile Pediatrics.

To say that the Mapps and their team go the “extra mile” is a colossal understatement. Let’s do the math: Extra Mile Pediatrics travels four times a year to Central America, visiting nine separate communities in El Salvador and Guatemala. If you assume that each one-way flight is about 3,000 miles (give or take) – and that travel by van between villages adds up to 250 miles per trip – that means the 12-15-person team logs about 13,000 miles a year – almost the equivalent of a season’s travel for an NFL team.

Extra mile indeed.

Dr. Mapp’s nonprofit brainchild grew out of his experience as an undergrad, not yet sure that a career in medicine was for him. But his connection to a pediatric neurosurgeon at VCU brought him on trips to Guatemala where he saw firsthand not only the need for the specialized surgeries that he was helping support but for basic, ongoing pediatric care. And the more he thought about it – throughout medical school and during his early years as a pediatric physician in private practice and even while obtaining his MBA from UNC – he became convinced that the concept that would become Extra Mile should be his principal focus.

Dr. Mapp working with a child
Dr. Mapp working with a child.

“The hinge point is what I found myself wanting,” Mapp said. “I view the world as a general pediatrician, and I think about high-impact and sustainable stuff you can do for communities that revolve around those foundational things – catching things early, for example. That’s why it makes sense to do this in a pediatric sense, because you’ve got the idea of compounding interest – if you can make a couple of nice course trajectory changes in a kid’s life, you’ve made a lasting change.”

The key element of Extra Mile’s mission – and what distinguishes it from other nonprofits that provide medical services to overseas populations – is that the organization works within the same communities. It gives Dr. Mapp and his team the opportunity to not only engender trust among the families they serve, but from a practical standpoint, it enables them to monitor progress from one visit to the next.

“So much of what you do as a pediatrician is revolving around things that happen over time,” he explains. “You can look at a kid on a growth chart and say, ‘he’s a little thin, he’s a little heavy,’ but neither of those might be a problem. What you really need to know is how much they have gained in six months, 12 months, and that’s the piece that was lacking. The same is true for development – speech development, motor skill development, chronic care management, asthma, allergies, that kind of stuff. You can go in and say, ‘here’s what we should do,’ but if you don’t go back to see if it worked, you may not have addressed the issue.”

Member of Extra Mile Pediatrics team measures height of a little girl

Extra Mile’s most recent trip was last July, returning to a community in Guatemala whose residents support a local coffee plantation, mostly as farmers and pickers who follow the harvest season, making it difficult to access healthcare on a regular basis. But once they know when Extra Mile will be there, they make appointments, using the plantation as a service hub.

Listening to the needs of the communities they serve, Extra Mile has expanded its service focus, implementing a speech therapy program using telehealth and helping provide water filters for clean drinking water for families.

In order to focus on Extra Mile, Dr. Mapp left private practice and is now a professor at VCU Medical School. He and his wife take no salary from the nonprofit, and volunteers who accompany them on the trips (most of whom have no medical backgrounds) raise what it costs to travel, typically around $2,000 each. The Mapp’s two children (now ages 14 and 18) also have joined the team over the years. And a Spanish-English translator is typically part of the contingent as well.

Despite the language barrier, there is no communication gap when it comes to understanding the gratitude displayed by the communities they serve.

“They are the warmest, nicest people, and I get way more out of going down there than I give while I’m there,” Dr. Mapp says. “I mean, every single time I come home, I think ‘those folks know how to live in a community – how to lean on each other, how to pick each other up.’ I’ve learned so much from that, and it’s just unbelievable.”

You can find more information about Extra Mile Pediatrics – including info on donating and volunteering – on the organization’s website.

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