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‘Patch’ Adams makes friends at UNCP

November 12, 2008

By Chris Adams

“Many people believe that laughter is the best medicine, I believe friendship is the medicine.”

Patch AdamsDr. Hunter Campbell Adams, better known as “Patch” Adams, shared his thoughts and ideas to a crowd of 850, November 3, at the Givens Performing Arts Center (GPAC) at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Adams’ life and experiences were the template for the film “Patch Adams,” starring Robin Williams. He discussed the power of humor in his lecture titled, “Humor and Health.”

“When you hear people say that you are the life of the party, that just means you are the oxygen and water to the body,” Adams said.

Adams is a medical doctor, social activist, citizen diplomat, professional clown, performer and author. He is the director of the Gesundheit Institute, which he founded in 1971.

“We started as a group of 20 friends, including three doctors,” Adams said. “We moved into a six-bedroom home, which we called a free hospital.”

The institute was open 24-hours a day, seven days a week and is still in business after 12 years. During that time, Adams said they treated 500-1,000 patients a month with 10-50 patients who stayed overnight.

Adams talked about his extensive travels to foreign countries and discussed his encounters.

“Your countenance is welcomed through many countries,” he said. “Twinkly eyes and smiles.

“Humor saved my life,” he said. “Humor made partnership wonderful.”

Adams said he entered the medical field 41 years ago and uses medicine as a vehicle for social change.

Patch Adams“Love, humor, joy, vitality and curiosity are never mentioned in medical school,” he said. “My staff specializes in those areas and also the health of the individual, the family and the community.

“Never promise cure, always promise care,” he said.

The Gesundheit Institute is the only medical group that refuses to carry malpractice insurance, he said.

“That’s saying we don’t care for you, we’re afraid of making mistakes,” Adams continued.

Adams compared the institute to a “Monty Python Hospital” (a British television comedy sketch show in the 70s).

“We make living and dying funny,” he said. “The crazier they are, the more they add to the setting.”

Adams spoke on social and health justice.

“Racism, sexism and environmental issues are all medical problems,” he said. “There is no hope for human survival if we don’t change our value system from money and power to self-interest.

“I have visited 10,000 death beds and held more starvation in my hands than anyone should,” he said.

Adams engaged the audience with three documentaries of his visits to the Middle-East and Russia.

Lisa Walters, student and president of the Health Careers Club introduced Adams that night along with Michael Severy, director of Student Life.

Adams spoke as part of the ongoing Distinguished Speaker Series at UNCP. Pepsi CEO Hugh Johnson speaks on January 22, 2009, actor Louis Gossett Jr. is February 4 and football player and commentator Doug Flutie is March 17. All performances are at 7 p.m. in GPAC.

Chris Adams is a Mass Communications major at UNCP.