Back Story

Aaron Lane-Davies

Medical Director, Bronson Children's Hospital

Aaron Lane-Davies is hiking for his hospital.

To be more specific, Lane-Davies has embarked on a multi-year, 1,100-mile hike through Michigan to develop and maintain the Pediatric Specialists Endowment at the hospital. The purpose of the endowment is to recruit and sustain pediatric specialists so children who need specialized care can remain close to home. It was launched in 2014 by Lane-Davies, who is also Bronson Methodist Hospital’s chief of staff.

Last month he reached the 500-mile mark on his quest, but he notes that, like his efforts to build the endowment, there’s still a long path ahead.

Why a long-distance hike?

The idea to do this hike (on the North Country Trail) came out of our family’s bonus year — when my children were taking a gap year before they started high school — and we traveled a lot, including hiking in California and on the Appalachian Trail. I love experiencing the world in that way, being on foot and seeing it at that pace.

At the same time, I was starting a new role as the medical director of Bronson Children’s Hospital and coming to understand how to build a sustainable children’s hospital. Kalamazoo is different than most communities its size because of the breadth and depth of care our Children’s Hospital offers. At the same time, it is challenging to recruit specialty pediatric physicians to a children’s hospital of our size.

Because of changes in health care reimbursement, Bronson is experiencing a shift where it is relying more on philanthropy to support programs that don't provide enough revenue to be sustainable. People think physicians are well-paid — and that’s a fact — but there’s a difference between the revenue a specialty care physician can generate from patients and what it costs to bring and maintain those highly trained people at the hospital.

Somehow, to me, the idea of developing an endowment to support the specialized care the hospital provides and a long-distance hike were connected. They are both long-term journeys.

How will your hike raise money?

I have personally pledged $10 for every mile I hike, but this is as much about raising awareness of what it takes to sustain a high-quality children’s hospital in our community. We want people to understand the impact they can have by helping us deliver the best care for kids.

When did you start the hike?

This is the third summer. I hike about 200 miles, doing three or four segments of the trail each summer. I started at the Michigan-Ohio line, near Hillsdale. The whole North Country Trail is 4,600 miles, from North Dakota to Vermont, and the largest section is in Michigan. It’s 1,150 miles from Ohio through the Lower Peninsula and across the Upper Peninsula to Wisconsin.

Did you train before you started?

No, I’ve done remarkably little training (he laughs). Bill Bryson (author of A Walk in the Woods) would be proud. I don't carry a heavy pack. I have rain gear and snacks, and I filter water as I go. I also have a support team that picks me up on the trail at the end of the day. The next day I start back up at the spot I stopped.

What kind of challenges have you met?

Distance. Now, when I go to my next hike segment, it's a big deal because I have to get in the car and drive three or four hours or more to my starting place on the trail. The furthest start point is 14 hours away by car. I will probably fly into Marquette to do that section of the trail.

What do you do when you aren’t hiking?

My clinical role is as a pediatric hospitalist and I am part of the team that provides medical care for kids from birth to 18 years that have been admitted to the hospital.

My other role is as medical director, which is about building and sustaining a children’s hospital that meets the needs of the community. I work on developing new ways to provide care to meet patients’ needs. We know we can’t have every type of doctor that the kids in the community need so we’ve been creative and are using telemedicine to bring specialized expertise to the community through partnerships with University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital (in Ann Arbor), Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (in Grand Rapids) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. We help families so they get the care their child needs and can still be close to home.

Have you had any surprises on your hikes?

The whole experience of moving on foot through communities I know like Marshall, Battle Creek, East Grand Rapids and Rockford — the trail sort of winds through these communities — gives you a very different perspective of them. You see things walking that you’d never notice otherwise.

What do you think about out on the trail?

I am a pretty introverted person, and what recharges me is that personal time when I can slow down, reflect and focus on projects at home and work. But sometimes I don’t think about anything. I am just enjoying being in the woods and putting one more mile behind me.

You can follow Lane-Davies’ hike or donate to the Pediatric Specialists Endowment at bronsonhealth.com/bronson-health-foundation

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