Just Call Him Doctor Heart
Kansas City physician's calling impacts many through his Forbes-ranked international relief charity Heart to Heart
When the Ebola crisis captured national attention in the fall of 2014, most Kansas Citians watched the news with growing concern from the sidelines. But one area doctor, Gary Morsch, was already in Liberia assessing whether there was need to create a fully operational Ebola Treatment Unit through his international charity Heart to Heart.
The answer: absolutely.
“Heart to Heart was one of the first, if not the first, to get over there,” says Johnson County Community College President Joe Sopcich. “Dr. Morsch was leading the way right there with them, boots on the ground as they say. I think that’s the kind of leader that he is and it illustrates why Heart to Heart has become one of the top organizations of that kind in the country, if not the world.”
Since its founding in 1992, Heart to Heart International (HHI) has dispensed $1.2 billion worth of medicines here and around the world and has sent tens of thousands of volunteers to help rebuild lives with medical care and muscle after hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters.
When Morsch was growing up in Oklahoma, his father, a pastor, instilled in him that serving the needy was a noble and paramount calling.
Now 63 and a decades-long Johnson County resident, Morsch has spent his life doing just that.
HHI is a Lenexa-based network of volunteers that mobilizes mostly medical resources to help address some of the most critical needs locally, nationally and internationally. Every year, Forbes magazine includes it in its prestigious list of “America’s 200 Largest Charities.” The organization is arguably more well-known around the country and around the world than here.
“He’s just a true visionary,” says Bob Fry, an Olathe orthodontist who’s known Morsch and his family for about 30 years. “He gets an idea to do something and you better get out of his road or he’s going to mow you down. He’s just one of those guys who gets a great philanthropic idea in his head and he does it. There are very few people I admire more than Gary Morsch. He inspires others by his own actions.”
In fact, Fry’s daughter now lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is in public health because of Gary Morsch.
“I tell parents, ‘Keep your kids away from Gary Morsch because he’ll have them living in some remote area,’” Fry jokes.
For his efforts to serve, Morsch, who lives on a farm in Bucyrus, Kans., near Olathe, was named Johnson Countian of 2014 by the Johnson County Community College Foundation.
Morsch’s humanitarian efforts in his quest to alleviate suffering are noble, says JCCC’s Sopcich.
“When we met with him initially, he was very inspirational and so moving,” Sopcich says. “I could have talked to him for hours about all his adventures and all of the wonderful things he’s done around the world.”
Morsch was on the scene to lend aid in the aftermath of the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011.
Humbled by the foundation’s honor, Morsch says he’s grateful to use it as a platform to beat the drum for HHI.
During an interview at Docs Who Care, an Olathe-based medical staffing company that Morsch founded in 1993 to serve rural clinics and hospitals throughout the Midwest, the affable, bearded doctor says most people are compelled by their DNA to help people. They just need guidance on how to do it.
“You don’t have to turn on the TV and watch the news and feel horrible that there’s some crisis in the world and you can’t do anything about it,” he says. “We can. We can do a lot more than we realize.”
Serving others doesn’t mean traveling on a plane to some remote part of the world, he stresses. It can mean making your life’s calling taking care of your disabled child, picking up a paintbrush to help refurbish a needy person’s home or sorting donations in a local nonprofit’s warehouse.
“Einstein said miracles exist for those who have eyes to see them,” Morsch says. “Are we going to understand that there is some great purpose to our lives? We’re not here just accidently to be a collection of a bunch of molecules and atoms. We really have some significance here and meaning to our lives. What I’m trying to do is help people find that sense of purpose in their lives, which I believe is found in serving other people. That’s the meaning of life. That’s why we’re here.”
Morsch and his wife, Vickie, a Leawood native, are both graduates of the University of Oklahoma Medical School — she in nursing, he in medicine. After graduation, she convinced him to move to Johnson County to set up a family practice in Olathe with a friend.
“He wanted to start a group of family doctors who would treat people holistically,” Morsch recalls, adding that the practice opened in 1984. “We had a clinical psychologist on staff. We had a dietician on staff. We really treated the whole person, and that was exciting.
“But at the same time, I knew I would be a family doctor and I also knew that somehow I would be involved in providing healthcare to the indigent, people without insurance, the poor, both here and at home and around the world. I thought this is a skill that I can use not just in my office, but I can use it in a rescue mission or an inner-city clinic or school health clinic or anywhere in the world where there’s need.”
Morsch started traveling the world to volunteer in rescue missions. Meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, in the late 1980s changed his life.
“Originally I thought I want to help people and volunteer because I had something to give them and it’s going to help them,” he says. “It was about me giving something to them. But what Mother Teresa taught me was that when you serve a poor person it also changes you. It transforms your life.”
The seeds of HHI sprung from an Olathe Rotary club project Morsch orchestrated in which some club members travelled to Belize to repair a YMCA building damaged by a hurricane. A year later, a group traveled to Moscow, Russia to take supplies to a hospital.
“We realized then that we should probably start a 501(c)(3) because it was growing beyond one Rotary Club’s ability,” he says.
Morsch, a retired colonel in the Army Reserves, a father of four and grandfather of eight, believes, like his father, that in serving the poor you see the face of God. He’s written five books and the latest is “The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are.”
“My personal faith has always been my motivation behind my sense of calling and importance to do this,” he says.