Children worldwide are reaping benefits of improved health, resulting from seeds generously sown through the Thrasher Research Fund.
Administered under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric, the fund was established in 1977 through a donation to the Church of 2,038 acres of second-growth redwood timberland by E. W. "Al" Thrasher. (See accompanying story.)Since that time, the fund has supported more than 200 scientific investigations and projects related to improving children's health.
A sampling of the myriad efforts funded include:
- A project in Guatemala, conducted by Dr. John Kennell and Dr. Marshall Klaus, determined labor was shortened and there were fewer complications at birth when there was a supportive companion, termed a "doula," attending the mother during labor and delivery. An unexpected finding was that during the six months subsequent to birth, there were significantly fewer hospitalizations of those infants whose mothers had such a companion.
- Severe physical disabilities affect the lives of millions of children and their families in developing countries. Project PROJIMO, directed by David Werner of the Hesperian Foundation, is a rehabilitation program for the disabled. Located in the Sierra Madra Mountains of western Mexico, it teaches families the skills and use of locally available materials to help their disabled children to be mobile and develop their potential. The project has resulted in a rehabilitation manual for disabled children that is being used throughout the developing world.
- A Family Health Tree questionnaire is being used in Utah schools as a screening and education instrument to identify possible disease conditions in students where there is a family predisposition for developing certain diseases later in life. An obvious pattern in their "family tree" can help students know which illnesses they should learn about so they can take preventive measures early in life.
- Vitamin A deficiency among children in developing countries causes night blindness and can result in total loss of sight. It is estimated that 1 million Third World children go blind every year due to severe vitamin A deficiency. A grant, under the direction of researchers at Johns Hopkins University, has resulted in the application of a painless technique for identifying vitamin A deficiency. This is now being used as a rapid diagnostic test to indentify children at greatest risk.
- Nepalese women of child-bearing age, along with children, have received DPT immunizations through the a vaccinator trainee/immunization program. Infants born to immunized mothers are protected against neonatal tetanus, a major cause of death, for six months following birth.
- With Thrasher support, the Andean Children's Foundation has launched successful well-digging and rope pump projects in the Altiplano of Bolivia. The projects mean that many families have, for the first time, safe and reliable sources of water.
- A demonstration project in Kenya, East Africa, is developing a means by which milk can be made into a yogurt-like cultured milk, which needs no refrigeration. This project has enormous importance in terms of general nutrition and improved family income.
- Native Americans have a high incidence of Haemophilus influenzae type b infections, which frequently result in severe illness and death. Passive immunization to this disease has been achieved by administering human hyperimmune globulin every six months to Indian infants during the first two years of life.
Before any project is funded it is carefully evaluated. An executive committee, chaired by Bishop Glenn L. Pace, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, is responsible for fund-policy decisions and general management. Technical advisory committees, composed of health professionals from various disciplines, make recommendations to the executive committee concerning those proposals to be funded.
Dr. Isaac "Ike" Ferguson, fund director, and Dr. Robert Briem, associate director, work under the direction of Bishop Pace and the fund's executive committee. Brother Ferguson has other significant responsibilities as director of Church Humanitarian Services, overseeing other Church welfare relief efforts worldwide. The Thrasher program is one part of the overall Church humanitarian efforts.
In a recent "chairman's message" presented in the Thrasher Research Fund annual report, Bishop Pace noted that the fund will "continue the solid, healthy growth that has enabled it to become a vital international research organization."
He added that its operation has included "much hard work from many dedicated researchers. Their efforts have enabled the fund to make significant contributions to improved child health.
"From one perspective, the task is overwhelming. Any achievement is lost in a sea of demands. From our perspective, however, the goal of better health for the world's children is clear, and each contribution toward it is significant. We share, with fund-supported researchers, the common vision of creating a future for the world's children that will enable them to live productive, hopeful lives."
Projects funded by Thrasher fall into two general categories - the scientific fund and the innovative fund. According to Brother Briem: "The scientific fund supports more traditional scientific research projects, mostly biomedical, focusing on major pediatric infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies. This provides a balance of long-range scientific research, which often leads to solutions that may take a long time to achieve. On the other hand, the innovative fund finances grassroots projects that often can have immediate impact for good."
"The medical field is bulging with new techniques," added Brother Ferguson. "Every day there are new scientific findings, which, of course, bless people by saving and prolonging their lives. But the problem we see in less-developed areas where needs are great, particularly in many Third World countries, is that few of these highly technical innovations have much chance of making it to the most needy in the near future. So we are making efforts to find practical applications of already known medical remedies.
"These types of things include simple food processes that can improve nutrition, and improving the quality of water. Contaminated water causes much illness in the Third World. We try to focus on areas of study that are not being heavily funded by other sources. With the amount of money we have available, it's obvious we can't look at everything, but we focus on a few problems and follow them to a fruitful end."
E. W. "Al" Thrasher has spent his life in the lumber industry. As a successful inventor, he developed an innovative precision-cutting system that increased the yield of lumber from each log by 20 to 60 percent.
Thrasher grew up around logging operations in northern California. He started cutting cordwood at age 14, beginning a successful business career that would eventually lead to extensive sawmill operations and ownership of several lumber mills.
Not a member of the Church, the benefactor became familiar with what was then Church-owned Primary Children's Hospital through a Primary Penny Parade campaign in the early 1970s in northern California.
He subsequently visited the hospital in Salt Lake City, and later deeded redwood property to the Church, with the understanding that it would be sold and the money used to establish a fund to support pediatric health studies emphasizing practical and applied research. Thus the Thrasher Research Fund mb:'a,'bw! $HOME/misc/was born.