It’s been said that it feels good to do good. If that is the case, then David Harding, M.D. must be feeling exceptional right about now. As an original volunteer and soon to be board member of The R.E.L.I.E.F. Foundation, Harding has been able to help victims all over the world who have been affected by Mother Nature’s most horrific disasters, including a recent trip to Japan to help with the relief efforts from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami just a few months ago.
University of Miami students Peter Groverman, Esq. and Armando Gutierrez founded the non-profit organization known as The Relief Foundation just prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Category 5 storm that left New Orleans, LA and surrounding areas in dismay. RELIEF stands for Relieving and Embracing Lives Interrupted by Earth’s Forces and the mission is to “create a better future for those in need of RELIEF by providing opportunities for volunteers to change their lives by changing the lives of others.” Harding was one of these volunteers that wanted to make an impact on the world. And he has.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Harding felt an immediate urge to want to help with the relief efforts. Growing up in Orlando, he felt that with the affected areas being so close, there had to be something he could do besides donating money. Just 24 hours before The Relief Foundation’s trip to Biloxi, MS, Harding received a text message inviting him to come along and be a part of the recovery efforts. It was a no brainer for him and within one day, Harding was able to raise more than $40,000 in medical supplies donated by the Orlando community doctors. He was able to fill the entire under section of the bus with crutches, gauze, birth control, and other medical supplies. At this point, Harding had not even planned to go to med school, but because he had so many medical supplies, everyone assumed he was a doctor and coined him the nickname, Dr. Dave.
It was this trip and possibly the nickname that inspired Harding to attend med school.
“This trip was the driving force for me to become a doctor. Seeing the true gratitude on the victim’s faces was enough to want to continue doing it.”
Harding applied to med school, attended St. Matthews University School of Medicine in the Grand Cayman Islands where he was awarded the Brendan Roddy Award in 2006 for the student who stands out as a result of his/her initiative and participation in St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine community or greater Caymanian community service areas. He was also awarded the Key to the City of Coral Gables, FL for his community service with the Hurricane Katrina trip. His medical knowledge would prove valuable for The Relief Foundation in the coming months and year.
After the Haiti earthquakes in 2010, The Relief Foundation organized a trip with more than 100 volunteers including the Mayor of Coral Gables Don Slesnick, II, surgeons, construction workers, and other volunteers ranging in ages from 18 to 63 years old. The 100+ group shut down an airline terminal and tractor trailers loaded up a 737 airplane filling the entire cargo hold with 44 tons of medical supplies, mattresses, water, tents, diapers, and other aid. The Relief Foundation was the first group to go into Port-au-Prince, even before the American Red Cross. While Harding could not attend this trip, he spent many hours researching ways to keep the volunteers safe prior to their departure, such as necessary shots, preventative
measures for diseases, and what was safe to eat and drink while there. While volunteers take a bit of a risk when traveling to these disaster stricken areas, it is important to Harding that everyone remains safe.
This value was extremely prevalent just recently when The Relief Foundation organized a trip to Nakoso, Japan to help with the relief efforts from the catastrophic tsunami and earthquake that hit on March 11, 2011. The last-minute trip took place April 25 – May 1 and originally had 14 volunteers. But as the trip approached, people dropped out at the final hour due to fear of the unknown radiation and how it would affect them.
“A lot of people were scared about the radiation, including myself. But the more I researched, the more I discovered that the amount I would be exposed to was less than the actual flight to and from Japan or when I receive an X-Ray,” stated Harding.
The final count of four people packed their things, took 150 mg tablets of Potassium Iodide to protect their thyroids, boarded the plane and went on an adventure that would forever change their lives…for the better.
The quad went to Nakoso, within 40 miles south of the reactor. “With radiation badges donated by St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in NYC, we were able to record exactly how much radiation we were exposed to each day.” Two of the members even felt drawn to go within 29 km of the reactor, right outside of Iwaki where the number of helpers were low. Harding mentioned that the Japanese government was extremely well prepared and within two days of the disaster, the affected areas were already getting aid and supplies. Harding even planned on going to Choshi, Japan to help but two days prior to arrival, they were told that too many people had shown up and it would be better to go to a different area to help.
Harding explained, “The government does a great job with providing resources. Individual providences are set up prior to natural disasters on what supplies or services can be donated in the case of emergency. Once the disaster struck, instantly these companies and firms donated what they said they would and within two days, a lot of the areas had aid.”
The most rewarding part for Harding was seeing all the people he was positively affecting and helping. He mentioned that many of the Japanese were surprised that Americans came all the way over to help.
“There was one older lady who was crying and kept saying thank you over and over again. It was amazing to make an impact and to help with the perception of Americans globally.”
This trip was just one way Harding was able to give back to the world. He didn’t grow an extra ear or obtain super powers from the radiation. He didn’t develop a strange disease from the areas he traveled to. But rather, he gained a new perspective on life and was able to feel good about doing good. Another trip will be scheduled to go back to Japan later in the year to continue with the relief efforts.
“It’s life changing and shows that you can always make a difference. The Foundation has the idea that if we can make one child smile, then the mission has been a success.”
Providing help for others runs in the family. David is the son of prestigious Dr.’s Deborah and Victor Harding, whom work and reside here in the Orlando area. Deborah is the CEO and Founder of the esteemed Harding Anti-Aging Center and its subsidiary MD One-On-One, a unique concierge medial practice giving patients the ultimate personal experience. Victor is the Director of Research at the practice.
“They provide the same amount of concern for me, as they do for their patients,” said Harding. “They are amazing.”
It’s no wonder why David grew up with a passion for helping people. He got to watch the generosity day in and day out with his parents. And with all the recognition he has received for The Relief Foundation and throughout schooling, when asked what his greatest accomplishment in life has been, he said…
“My family. I am the oldest of six and we are all doing amazing. It’s very special.”
Harding is currently residing in NYC and applying for residencies. In the meantime, he is devoting his time to The Relief Foundation and conducting research based on the radiation readings he collected while in Japan along with the research provided by Safecast, a company solely dedicated to radiation readings in Japan. His goal is to find a way to show that radiation can be detected and that it might not be as bad as the media would claim it to. With this, he is hoping to put people’s minds at ease and possibly recruit more volunteers to the next trip to Japan.
The Relief Foundation traveled to Alabama in May to help with the tornado damages and is organizing a trip to Mississippi to aid with the relief efforts from the floods. In January 2012, the Foundation plans to head back to Haiti for their one-year anniversary to build a medical and dental building.
To get involved or to learn more about The Relief Foundation, go to www.TheReliefFoundation.com or contact Harding at DrDave@therelieffoundation.com <