“I don’t think that there is a continent that we haven’t supplied some sort of contribution to.”

Diane McAndrews with a dog-sized hyperbaric chamber.

Building administrator, School of Medicine
Length of service:
3 years (plus 15 years as a Penn subcontractor)
Other stuff:
Likes a good mystery, and is now writing one.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Stashed in closets, utility rooms and other nooks and crannies around campus are equipment and supplies waiting for a new life.

Diane McAndrews put them there, and when the time comes, she’ll take them out.

McAndrews, the building administrator for the Anatomy-Chemistry, John Morgan, Richards and Stellar-Chance buildings at the Medical School, is one of the prime movers behind REMEDY at Penn, the local chapter of an organization established at Yale to recycle surplus medical supplies and equipment.

Established at Penn in December 1996 by Andrew Krakowski (C’96,M’03) and McAndrews, the program has already placed more than $750,000 worth of equipment and supplies in clinics, schools and hospitals from University City to the Ukraine.

We spoke over the summer about the program and how she got involved.

Q. How did you become involved in REMEDY?
Before the program started, [Krakowski] contacted Dr. [Richard] Tannen [senior vice dean of the school] to see if there was space to store medical equipment that was being disposed of. He in turn contacted [Associate Vice President for Architecture and Facilities Management] Steve Wiesenthal, who contacted the building administrators, and I was the one who found this as a very exciting idea and met with Andrew to pursue REMEDY, to start.

Q. How many people are involved in the program now?
We have a multitude of medical students who assist us, and we have various supporters in the medical community that know about us.
   We do have one special person on our team, Dr. [Patrick] Storey, who’s [the associate dean for] international medicine. He helped us last year when there was the Mitch hurricane in South America.
   We were able to get three skids of medical supplies packed up, and we got, networking through International Medicine, free cargo space to deliver these three skids of medical supplies.
   Another thing that’s important too — all this is done on volunteer time. We put a lot of hours into this, as well as students do.

Q. How are swaps or donations organized? Does an organization approach you saying “We’re looking for...” or would a doctor say “I have these old...can you use them?”
It’s all of the above, basically. We have various institutions and schools that have a wish list, and then sometimes we are the recipient of some older, still-useful equipment that we are able to network with and by word of mouth — sometimes, we don’t even have a chance to put it up on our Web site.

Q. What’s the most unusual donation you’ve received?
That would have to be the animal hyperbaric chamber. It was designed for Dr. [Christian] Lambertsen [professor emeritus of environmental medicine] — he’s world-renowned. He was involved in the invention of underwater breathing devices for divers. It can simulate the pressure of 5,000 leagues under the sea.
   We’re looking for a new home for it. Right now, it’s temporarily stored in a Physical Plant chilled-water facility until we can ship it to Mexico.

Q. What’s the most unusual request you’ve gotten?
The Goodwill Industries of Delaware asked us if we had any computer equipment that could be cannibalized. They had 10 physically challenged adults who [were] trained to take apart the computers and make whole [new ones].
   Some were blind, some were paraplegic, yet they were able to take apart three or four dead computers and put ’em together and make a whole one.

Q. How many different countries has stuff gone to from here?
I don’t think that there is a continent that we haven’t supplied some sort of contribution to. I know typically in South Africa, we have one of our docs who goes over there regularly, who always packs a CARE package too — whether it be crayons or chalk or pencils that the young school kids don’t have, or whether it be some sort of medical-supply support.
   We typically try to take care of our community here in West Philadelphia first. However, there are times when there’s a certain need.
   I had one of the professors whose daughter is teaching an Indian reservation biology and chemistry class, who is very limited in resources, and we were able to donate an old and well-used microscope that was really non-functional for somebody here, but for an Indian student on a reservation in Arizona, it was one way of looking at the world that they would not have had if REMEDY wasn’t here, because this school and teacher did not have the money to buy a microscope.

A benefit concert on Dec. 7, featuring veteran rocker Kenn Kweder, will raise funds to support REMEDY’s activities and kick off the organization’s drive to collect old medical journals for shipping to Third World countries. See “What’s On.”
For more information about REMEDY, or to volunteer or donate equipment or supplies, visit www.med.upenn.edu/~remedy/ on the World Wide Web.


Originally published on December 2, 1999