CHICAGO -- Wearing a Chicago Cubs cap, T-shirt and shorts, Dr. David Mayer finished a 7.2-mile morning walk from Northwestern University behind a group of supporters holding a "Patient Safety Movement" sign Saturday morning under the Wrigley Field marquee.
Mayer, a Cubs season ticket holder who grew up in Chicago, is more than 1,000 miles since February into a walk to every Major League Baseball park and spring training fields, hoping to raise awareness about preventable deaths that occur in health-care settings.
It's a cause he has been advocating for two decades, noting preventable medical harm is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. And he's hoping the healthcare and hospital issues highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic help increase awareness.
"We've got to do better," Mayer said. "I think the pandemic has brought more of this out and exposed more gaps in the healthcare industry. There's over 700 nurses, therapists who died because they didn't have the right equipment and training to fight this pandemic. It's a shame. We could have done better."
Mayer, the founder of Patient Safety Movement Foundation and executive director of MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety, worked as a cardiac anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. He studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago for both his undergraduate and medical degrees.
The Patient Safety Movement Foundation spans 51 countries and 4,600 hospitals, Mayer said, aiming to encourage a "culture of safety" and transparency to eliminate harm to patients and caregivers.
"I've gotten to meet too many people, and it just makes you cry when you lose an 11-year-old and lose a 3-year-old," said Mayer, 67. "It became my passion and evolved out of the operating room to leadership."
Stuck inside in early February, he watched the movie "Forrest Gump," which features Tom Hanks playing a character who famously runs across America. An idea struck Mayer: He could raise awareness walking enough miles to add up to the length of a cross-country walk.
He figures he will walk 2,600 miles by February.
He has hit six ballparks and 10 Cactus League sites already, starting his journey in May at Sloan Park, the Cubs' Mesa, Ariz., training facility. The nearly 100-mile leg from Milwaukee to Wrigley took about a week.