The cross-country cycling team in Montana. From left: Arul Paulus, Daniel Severino, Julian Valencia, Hannah Paulus (rear), Joshua Paulus-Rosenow, Nitha Paulus and Sarah Paulus. Front/center: Lydia Paulus

Cycling to combat human trafficking

Through Cycling For Change (c4c) and training initiatives to identify human trafficking at Huntington Hospital, Santhosh Paulus, MD, is helping raise awareness and assist victims of modern-day slavery.

A persistent myth about illegally transporting people — young and old — across borders for exploitation is that it happens on the other side of the globe. Santhosh Paulus, MD, director of Huntington Hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program, used to think so.

He's now advocating for change through his nonprofit organization, Cycling For Change (c4c), and leading training efforts at Huntington Hospital, teaching clinicians to identify and treat victims of human trafficking.

Dr. Paulus realized how close to home human trafficking is several years ago at Soulfest, a music festival in New Hampshire. Representatives of a Boston-based organization that combats human trafficking were there and gave a presentation about forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation and sexual slavery in the US today.

“When that group was speaking, my four young daughters stood in front of me, teens and preteens similar in age to the population being described,” Dr. Paulus said. “And it hit me hard that human trafficking happens here in America.”

About 1.5 million children and adults are trafficked from developed countries, including the US, UNICEF USA estimates. He immediately wanted to take action.

“I didn’t know how to do more to fight it at the time,” he said, “but that’s when I started thinking about doing something.”

Raising $35,000 for human trafficking

An avid cyclist, Dr. Paulus founded Cycling For Change (c4c) in 2014 to raise money via cycling events and golf tournaments to assist organizations that work to end human trafficking and aid survivors. The group’s first cycling fundraiser, in summer 2015, took Dr. Paulus, his immediate family, his brother’s family and two other cyclists on an approximately 3,400-mile, month-long ride from Seattle to Long Island.

The cross-country excursion required detailed preparation, but plans changed for Dr. Paulus four weeks before the start. Despite 18 months of training and nearly 3,000 miles logged, he received an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator to treat recently diagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

“I ended up riding about 200 miles of the route, and two cyclist friends rode the other 2,800,” Dr. Paulus said. “In general, we tried to cover an average of 115 miles a day, six days a week. My family and I followed the riders in an RV as the support team. After the cyclists completed their daily rides, my wife, children and I added to that, usually 20 to 40 miles.”

Just two days into the trip on July 1, Dr. Paulus not only began his trek across America, but he celebrated his 40th birthday.

“We were in Wenatchee, Washington, and I biked for the first time since receiving the defibrillator,” Dr. Paulus said. “The route took us across the Columbia River. I got really emotional riding with my girls.”

Then on August 1, the whole team wrapped up the trip by cycling from North Shore University Hospital to the Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club in Locust Valley, accompanied by dozens of local cyclists. The overall trip featured plenty of sweat, a little blood — some of the cyclists were left with cuts and scrapes and even stitches following spills from their bikes — and a few tears. It raised $35,000 for the Nomi Network and World Vision.

The Bill Bauer Memorial c4c Bikathon is born

Although successful, the cross-country ride was a one‑shot deal.

“For all of us to keep our jobs and preserve our marriages, we couldn’t do another ride that long,” Dr. Paulus said.

So, c4c established the Bill Bauer Memorial c4c Bikathon, named for an avid Bayville cyclist and c4c coach. In October 2016, the event drew approximately 40 riders — and around the same number of virtual participants from across the country — who participated in 5-, 20- or 60-mile rides on Long Island’s North Shore. The event raised $10,000 for the Nomi Network.

“We all need people who will be in our corner,” Dr. Paulus said. “None of us knows when we’ll need help. I want to be a voice for those who don’t have one.”

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Doctoring 2018