Erin O'Fiel Stevens spent the summer bicycling for a cause, one that many even within her industry aren't too familiar with.
Stevens, 27, a lesbian who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, is the founder and chair for the Facial Prosthetics Initiatives Network. Her goal this summer, which she accomplished, was The Worthwhile Mile. She set out to ride more than 1,000 miles on her bicycle to help bring awareness and financial support to a clinical field known as anaplastology, the practice of prosthetic restoration of facial or body anatomy when surgical reconstruction is unachievable or undesired, she said.
"Essentially, our patients are missing or have lost an eye, ear, nose, or portion of the face, hands or feet due to cancer, accident- or abuse-related trauma, or congenital origin, and for a variety of reasons, the most favorable option is to replace it with an artificial, life-like prosthesis," Stevens said. "I pledged to ride 1,000 miles in hopes of bringing attention to this field, which is largely unknown by the general public and, unfortunately, by many health care professionals.
"While a graduate student and employee at The University of Illinois at Chicago's Craniofacial Center, I continually encountered patients who had gone years before ever becoming informed of prosthetic treatment as an option. What is, perhaps, even more shocking is how I often I come across doctors, many very experienced, who have no knowledge of facial prosthetics. This is not a new field; we were creating facial prostheses for soldiers mangled by trench warfare in World War I. I'm not sure why this field receives so little attention in the medical field, but it has become my mission to change that."
She founded the non-profit organization last April to educate the world about treatment options and innovations in the field. The Worthwhile Mile served as a kick off event to bring attention to the field and this new organization, she said.
"The biggest highlight of the 1,000 miles was most definitely the people I met along the ride," Stevens said. "Most of the rides I participated in involved riding 60- to 100-miles per day, and when you're in the saddle for that many hours, conversation is the best distraction from the number of miles ahead of you. I was able to share The Worthwhile Mile with people from all over the country."
About half of Stevens' miles came in the Register's Annual Group Bike Ride Across Iowaa seven-day, 471-mile trek from the western to eastern border of Iowa.
"The distance of the [Iowa] ride was not so much the challenge, but the heat was unbelievable," she said. "The first four days of the ride, we rode in temperatures over 100 degrees, in the middle of Iowa's scorching drought. It was like riding in an oven. Despite the heat, it turned out to be one of the coolest things I've ever done. There were 25,000 riders from all over the country, pedaling for all different reasons. Every day was better than the [previous] and the support you received from other riders was insanely motivating."
Stevens raised several thousand dollars over the summer, with donations from more than 100 people.
She's already planning The Worthwhile Mile 2013.
"My goal is to turn The Worthwhile Mile into a multi-person event, so that others can pledge a distance of their choice and dedicate their ride, or rides, to a cause," she said.
Stevens is accepting donations through the end of 2012, and all funds will be donated to the Walter Spohn Education Fund, established to support research and education in anaplastology.
"It always feels good to achieve a goal you've made for yourself, especially a big one," Stevens said. "I don't know that I was personally changed through this experience, but I'm certainly more motivated to encourage people to give their activities a purpose. If you feel like running a 5K or climbing Machu Pichu, dedicating that adventure to a cause gives you a great well of motivation along the way.
"I really do feel like I've made a difference, not simply by raising money, but I think this project has energized members in the field and it is generating opportunities for me to invest creatively in the growth of anaplastology outside of the clinic."
Stevens said most of her rides were among other registered riders, though she did not know them. She did, though, ride across Iowa with a Northwestern University group coordinated by Caryl Drohan, associate head coach of Northwestern's women's softball team. "Caryl encouraged me to do my first century ride a couple years ago, and I've been in love with riding ever since," Stevens said.
"I received a ton of support from local businesses in promoting this event. Kitchen Sink Cafe (Edgewater) and Finch's Beer Co. (Chicago) helped us put on a hugely successful celebration and fundraiser at the end of the 1,000 miles."
Donations to the Walter Spohn Education Fund in honor of Stevens' 1,000 miles can be made online at www.worthwhilemile.com .