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Naylor: Hinds working to be difference maker in Guyana

Dave Naylor
4/18/2012 5:01:47 PM
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Hamilton Tiger-Cat Ryan Hinds walked on the ground he had left 18 years earlier and the memories began flowing back to him.

There were the sights, the sounds and smells he didn't even know he had experienced. But once he began processing them, he knew they were instantly familiar.

A lot had changed since the 25-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cat cornerback had left his native Guyana to immigrate to Canada as a seven year-old boy.

He was returning last month as a grown man, a professional football player, back to try and give something back to the country of his birth.

"I couldn't believe I was going back after 18 years," said Hinds, who is entering his third year with the Tiger-Cats this season. "I saw the airport I had left from, there were flashbacks of places I didn't know I remembered, different smells, then going to my old house."

Hinds's road back to Guyana actually had very little to do with his status as a professional football player and far more with his professional pursuit away from the field.

As a biology graduate from the University of New Hampshire and an aspiring physician, Hinds began taking part in medical research internship at McMaster University Hospital last year.

His is studying something called pectus excavatum, a congenital deformity of the anterior wall of the chest.

It's not your typical off-field activity for a professional football player, but then there aren't many CFL players who aspire to a career in medicine after football (Hinds says when he takes medical literature on Tiger-Cat road trips during the season, there's rarely a fight with teammates for his reading material).

So when one of the doctors at McMaster was putting together a project to raise money for pediatric facilities in Guyana, he approached Hinds because of his interest in pediatric medicine and his connection to the country.

"When they asked me to be the face of this project I was overwhelmed because it sounded huge," said Hinds, who was raised in Toronto. 'The doctor (Brian Cameron) does a lot of work with Guyana so what he had in mind was to help the pediatric ward because often it gets left to the last. So the whole idea is to get the pediatric ward to where it should be."

When he arrived in Guyana, Hinds was taken to meet the country's president, Donald Ramotar.

"Meeting the president the first day kind of put into perspective for me how big this project can be," he said.

Guyana is a former British colony located on the North coast of South America where standards for things such as health care are far below those of North America.

There are only two practicing pediatricians in the country of 750,000, both of whom work in the private sector. And any questions Hinds may have had about the need for funds to upgrade the country's medical facilities were quickly erased by what he saw.

"I walked into the isolation room in the pediatric ward and it looked like a jail cell," said Hinds. "There was paint peeling and there was just a single flat mattress. There were no IV's and the toilet tank was caged and the seat had no covering. You can't believe kids stay here when they're trying to get better."

Part of the trip was to open a neonatal intensive care unit which had been funded by efforts led by a Canadian doctor, Dr. Narendra Singh, who founded Guyana Help the Kids. Seeing the fruits of that project gave Hinds hope that his efforts to create a new pediatric ward can drastically improve conditions in his former home country.

Seeing the state of things in Guyana would have been jarring to anyone. But his personal connection to the country made it hit home especially hard.

"You identify with people because I'm from there," he said. "It gives you motivation that it somehow has to get done."

To that end, Hinds is holding a dinner this Sunday, April 22, at the Workers Art and Heritage Centre in Hamilton, aimed at raising awareness about the project and form a small working group directed at larger fundraising efforts.

Information is available at www.ryanhindsghtk.blogspot.ca or www.guyanahelpthekids.com.

Hinds said the people of is native country have no real idea what he does for a living back in Canada, not surprising in a place where cricket and soccer garner most of the sporting attention and North American football is virtually unknown.

But if Hinds is able to accomplish his goals for a new pediatric ward, the people of Guyana will have plenty for which to remember him.

"Being back to help my country was pretty moving because you always want to give back to where you've come from."




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