NFL Player's Association medical director travels to Ukraine with Team Rubicon

·3 min read

Jun. 2—Throughout April, NFL Players Association Medical Director Thom Mayer spent three weeks in Ukraine and treated 350 patients.

Mayer, an Anderson High School graduate, traveled to Ukraine as a part of Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to serve communities in need by sending military veterans, first responders, medical professionals and technology solutions to provide assistance, according to Team Rubicon's website.

Between his background in emergency medicine and his work with the NFL, Mayer felt he was uniquely qualified to assist in Ukraine.

Mayer's patients consisted of internally displaced persons — people who were displaced from their homes and were often 800 or more miles away from any kind of assistance from Ukrainian health care.

Team Rubicon would travel to wherever they were needed, often treating people at train stations or the Ukrainian Olympic Center, bringing their own medications, injections and equipment.

"I led a mobile emergency team. We'd saddle up in the morning, myself, a physician assistant, and a couple nurses and a couple of firefighter paramedics," Mayer said. "We would head out to wherever we needed to go to meet the needs of the patients that day.... It was an honor and a privilege. The main thing that sticks with you is their bravery, their courage, their tenacity."

Kevin Lane has known Mayer since they met in the third grade at Meadowbrook Elementary School and has kept in touch with Mayer during his time spent overseas.

Lane and some other friends from Anderson High School would receive text updates from Mayer, but they were never told where he was located because he was considered a high-value kidnapping target.

Ultimately, Lane always believed that Mayer was brilliant but humble, and he did not hesitate to help those in need.

"This is exactly the kind of life we expected him to live," Lane said.

Mayer believes physicians learn more from their patients than they give and he felt humbled by those he met during his time in Ukraine.

He met a 9-year-old boy at a train station, a high target area for Russian forces, who showed great spirit by telling the team's interpreter, "Tell the American doctor, don't worry, the Ukrainian people will be fine," causing the interpreter to weep in response.

Additionally, Mayer treated a 73-year-old woman and her husband who had a stroke. Despite being displaced from her home, this woman carried around her cocoa toy chihuahua named Tyson and, feeling the need to make her laugh, Mayer placed his stethoscope on the dog's head and said, "I think this guy needs some psychotherapy."

Mayer's biggest takeaway from his experience was the ability of people to adapt to do whatever needs to be done.

"Think about the fact that the majority of these people literally saw their houses destroyed by missiles or artillery ordnance, had a half an hour to an hour to figure out what to pack, what to bring and what to leave," Mayer said. "And if they did it, they did it with a smile. They were very gracious; it showed a level of courage that was impressive in the experience."

While people have opened their pockets and contributed to the cause through whatever means they can, Mayer felt fortunate to be able to use his passport to go to Ukraine and make a real impact.

If someone is considering traveling abroad to try and help first-hand, Mayer believes they shouldn't hesitate because they would be meeting a real need.

"You will be in harm's way. I certainly looked out, heard a noise, looked out my window, and saw four Russian missiles go past and impact about three blocks away," Mayer said. "But that just tells you you're in the right place."