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Roseville doc treats kids in Mongolia

Pediatric neurologist travels to Asian country for 10 days each summer
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Dr. Richard Friederich is a hot commodity in Mongolia, where he’s traveled the past nine years to treat children in need. The Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center doctor is one of roughly 1,500 pediatric neurologists in the United States, he said. When he visits Mongolia in central and East Asia, he is one of about five — a shortage that leaves many of the nation’s children without adequate medical care. “Dr. Friederich is one of many physicians, nurses and staff members from Kaiser Permanente who graciously volunteer their time and expertise to treat patients who lack access to medical care in our community and around the globe,” said Chris Palkowski, physician-in-chief of Kaiser Roseville. “We are grateful for their compassion.” Friederich spent 10 days in Mongolia, returning July 11. He traveled there as part of a Christian-based medical team that included a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, patient advocate and three non-medical support staff. “It was probably the most organized and productive of the trips,” Friederich said. “We saw 150 patients in five days.” The patients typically suffer from cerebral palsy, mental retardation, various syndromes, epilepsy and developmental delay. The doctors hold the annual clinic in a two-story building in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. In previous years, the group went to the countryside to see patients, but traveling the long distances took up so much time the doctors would only see a small number of people. They decided to establish a central location. That building is now commonly called “The Clinic that Helps Kids Learn How to Walk,” Friederich said. About half of the children they treat have cerebral palsy. Some patients travel several days to the clinic where they are seen by a doctor who performs the medical history and physical exam and then refers them to specialists. Most of the cases the team diagnoses would be considered common, well-known disorders in the United States. Friederich says Mongolia doctors practice outdated medicine, but some advancements are occurring. “It was very satisfying to see the kinds of changes going on,” Friederich said. “There’s a change in mindset from nine years ago. There was an attitude of ‘Who are you to tell us?’ That has changed. They want to learn.” As for Friederich, he credits his Christian faith for motivating him to make the long journey to Mongolia each year. “Out of obedience, (I’m) called to do that,” he said. “Part of it is giving back. I’ve been really blessed.” Four years ago, a little girl visited the clinic with her mother. The girl has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, which causes an abnormal stiffness of her legs. The doctors told the mom that one day her daughter would walk. The team trained the girl and her mom on therapy techniques she could do at home. The next year, the girl returned to the clinic and they taught her how to use a walker. Last year, she entered the clinic on crutches. “She grinned and walked forward and lifted the crutches in the air and kept walking toward us,” Friederich said. “We all started cheering and whooping. It was so exciting. That’s why we do it.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.