Paul Chan, MD, Leads a Group of Hikers on a 50-Mile Round Trip Each Year

Across the Grand Canyon on the North Rim in 2018, from left, Paul Chan, MD; Jesse Chan; David Wooldridge, MD, from Saint Luke’s; and Matt Ungashick of Kansas City.

From Kansas City Medicine, Third Quarter 2020
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By Sonia Coleman

It all started on a leisurely walk one summer morning. Paul Chan, MD, a KCMS member and cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Hospital, was outside with his young son when they saw a homeless man sleeping on the street.

“Jesse, my then 6-year-old son, asked me about the homeless man throughout the day,” said Dr. Chan. “It was a wake-up call for me. I realized that, although my wife and I have been involved in service throughout our lives, we needed to do a better job communicating those principles to our kids.”

So Dr. Chan decided to take action. Why not do a walk for hunger to raise awareness and tackle one of nature’s most challenging hikes at the same time?

Dr. Chan had always wanted to do a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike ever since he and his wife, Katie, worked at the Navajo reservation near the Grand Canyon years before. It was an extreme challenge—a one-day, 50-mile round-trip trek across the Grand Canyon and back—traveling the steep terrain for a total elevation gain of 11,000 feet.

Katie thought he was crazy. He’d never even been in a gym before.

After extensive training, Dr. Chan completed the grueling hike. That year, 2010, he raised tens of thousands of dollars to fund the Kansas City-Heart of America CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty) Hunger Walk.

He never thought he’d do it again. Yet, six months later, people started asking if he was going back to the canyon.

“I’d sent out email updates during the hike. People wanted to hear about the journey and join me because they thought it was important. That’s when I started thinking, ‘Maybe there is more.’”

 

“NEVER GO BY YOURSELF ON A JOURNEY”

On the day before their 2017 hike, with a bighorn sheep in the right background, Dylan Chan, Paul Chan MD, Jesse Chan, Dr. Chan’s wife Katie Lorand, John Legg, Sarah Wagner, Tom McCurry, Matt Ungashjick, and Steve Berne.

Over a decade later, Dr. Chan has completed the 50-mile Grand Canyon hike every year. Katie leads a shorter hike 20 miles out and back. Both his children, now teenagers, have participated in the hike multiple times.

“The first two years I went alone on the hike,” said Dr. Chan. “I learned a lot of lessons through the years, and number one was never go by yourself on a journey.”

The Chans now lead a group of people every year. The hikers are from all walks of life and all political persuasions, and their backgrounds include medicine, education, food industry leaders and more. A recent Saint Luke’s heart transplant patient, 33 years old, was able to participate last year. Kansas City-area physicians who have participated include hospitalist David Wooldridge, MD, and cardiologist Taiyeb Khumri, MD, both KCMS members from Saint Luke’s.

Hundreds more people participate in the Grand Canyon Hunger Walk hike via donations, helping to raise more than $839,456 since the effort began.

Many of the hikers and donors are repeat participants.

“The hike is seen as this crazy challenge,” said Dr. Chan. “The Grand Canyon is such a spectacular place. The difficulty of the hike is symbolic of the great challenges that we’re facing in our communities, whether overseas or in the Kansas City area. We’ve become a community as we work to bring awareness to the issue of hunger.”

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