Dr. Edward M. Barksdale, Jr. is on a mission. The Harvard Medical School-trained chief of pediatric surgery at University Hospital’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital (he’s also is a professor of surgery at Case Western Reserve University) wants to do more than just save one life at a time in the operating room. He wants to save hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of young lives.
In order to accomplish that goal, Barksdale knows he must leave the operating room and hit the streets. He must work to restore hope to areas where none — or very little — presently exists. He must reach out to young people on the wrong path before they end up on his operating table.
Barksdale said sometimes he feels like "a physician attempting to save lives in a mortuary.”
“I’ve been spending my time exploring violence, not because I have an interest in it, but because I have to understand how to help put an end to it in our neighborhoods," Barksdale said. "It’s costing us far too many young lives.”
The loss of hope, the sense of not having a future, not having anything worth living for is devastating on young minds, Barksdale said.
“When I grew up, we weren’t rich," he said. "My mother never finished high school. My father spent 12 to 14 hour days working for the Postal Service, but my grandmother lived right next door to us, and I spent a lot of time with her."
"She — as well as my mother and father — instilled in me a desire to ‘be about something’ to matter in this world," Barksdale said. "Everyone needs that kind of encouragement.”
Barksdale knew the field of medicine, but had a feeling — a sense of calling — that he should be doing more.
“I was invited to interview at Cleveland Clinic for a position quite similar to the one I hold now, so I drove over from Pittsburgh for the interview, and afterward got lost attempting to find my way back to the freeway. I was in a community near the Clinic (there were abandoned houses and boarded-up businesses), and I thought ‘Why would I want to work in a city this depressing?’ I turned the job down.”
A few months later, in the jungles of Nicaragua, Barksdale’s “moment of clarity” came.
“I was exploring a medical business opportunity in that country and while I was there, I was asked to take a look at a very sick child," he said. "While tending to that child the thought struck me that I could be helping in a similar way in someplace like Cleveland … where the need is also great. Not long after returning to the States I got the call about the position I now hold … that was a little over four years ago and I’ve been here ever since.”
A favorite teaching tool the doctor uses is a YouTube video entitled “Battle at Kruger.”
Kruger National Park is in southern Africa. Some visitors captured the scene on video. A pride of lions was crouched in the bush, waiting for a few stray water buffalo to get close enough for them to pounce. The lead water buffalo smelled the loins and took flight. However, a small calf was too slow and the lions caught it. As they struggled to kill the calf, they fell into the water where two crocodiles tried to seize the calf from the lions, but the lions prevailed and got back on dry ground.
Just when it looked as if it was curtains for the calf, a herd of 40 water buffalo came thundering to the rescue. They attacked the predators, freed the calf and then formed a circle around the small creature while the large bull water buffalos ran the lions off.
“That’s what we have to do as a community,” said a beaming Barksdale at the conclusion of the video, “we have to do what these water buffalo knew to do — we have to surround our young and protect them from predators.”
In Cleveland, the good doctor has found his calling.
Mansfield Frazier is a journalist living in Hough. Check out his vineyard Chateau Hough.