Attorney spearheads drive to help end deadly disease

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

When Ann Arbor attorney Ron Gardner drives by Michigan Stadium, he can't help but get a disturbing visual: Every year, the number of mother and babies who die from maternal and neonatal tetanus in the world's poorest countries would nearly fill that stadium.

And the disease is preventable with a series of three 60-cent vaccines.

That's why Gardner is spearheading a drive to raise $100,000 through the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor.

"We will stop when the stadium is empty," said Gardner, an estate and trust attorney with offices at 1601 Briarwood Circle.

Gardner, who is a recent past president of Kiwanis, returned from a Kiwanis International convention about three years ago firmly committed to the Eliminate Project, a joint effort of Kiwanis International and UNICEF.

The goal is to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus worldwide by 2015. To eliminate MNT, more than 100 million mothers and their future babies must be immunized, which requires vaccines, syringes, safe storage, transportation, and thousands of skilled staff, Gardner said. That amounts to a cost of about $110 million.

The effects of the disease are excruciating, he said, explaining how the newborns suffer repeated, painful convulsions and extreme sensitivity to light and touch before they die about seven days after birth.

"The problem occurs at the moment of birth," said Gardner. "The women are cutting the umbilical cord with a piece of glass that's been laying on the ground, or a bamboo shoot, and it has tetanus spores that are transferred to the baby. The mother contracts tetanus, and the death is an unbelievably horrible death that generally takes the life of the baby in about seven days."

"Tens of thousands of mothers senselessly die each year, as well.''

The Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor will contribute $100,000 to the Eliminate Project by the end of 2015. It was only the second Kiwanis club in the world to make a commitment that large.

So far, it has raised about $51,000.

Gardner joined the Kiwanis Club of Ann Arbor in 2001, and became its president in 2010-2011.

On Saturday mornings from 9 to noon, Gardner may be spotted helping out at the popular Kiwanis sale at the corner of First Street and West Washington.

"The Kiwanis sale is truly a win-win-win situation and it's great to be part of that," he said. "People donate goods they'd like to get rid of and get a tax deduction, and we're able to turn around and sell them so people can buy gently used items at a very low cost. In the course of our 90-year history, that sale has allowed us to make grants to other local organizations as well as furnish direct assistance in the form of in-kind contributions to various folks who are in need in the community."

"And it's just fun."

None of those profits have been used to fund the Eliminate Project. Instead, those donations are coming from members, fundraisers, and the public.

Gardner, 60, has lived in Ann Arbor since 1958, and is a graduate of Pioneer High School, Michigan State and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

His entire career has focused on estates and trusts.

"It's nice to be in a position to help people who want to arrange to get their affairs in order, and then help them when they are responsible for settling an estate or being a trustee of a trust," he said.

He works with clients to minimize the possibility of families feuding about an estate.

In one particularly ugly case, he represented a beneficiary who had to sue her brother who was using the estate and trust assets like an ATM, and kept details secret.

"Ultimately that case was resolved, but not before a tremendous amount of time, money and energy was expended," he said. "It was clearly heart-breaking because our client carried the ball for so much of that effort, and it wasn't until the late-going that her sister realized their brother was engaging in that conduct."

That brother was an attorney.

"He should have known better," said Gardner.

Gardner has nothing but praise, however, for his fellow Kiwanians.

"The members are as solid a group of individuals as I've had the pleasure to associate with," said Gardner. "I love what we're able to do in this community."

Gardner enjoys the weekly meetings for both the camaraderie and the club's mission.

And he is determined to continue the fundraising efforts until the Eliminate Project goal is met.

"There are not too many times in a persons life," he said, "that you can be part of changing the course of history."

To contribute to the Eliminate Project, contact Gardner at rgardner035@gmail.com.

Published: Thu, Apr 4, 2013

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