Patient Story

Saint Luke’s Cardiologist Celebrates 10th Annual Grand Canyon Hike to Help Fight Hunger

“[Our walk] is meant to build a community of people interested in making our world a better place, one step at a time.” – Dr. Paul Chan

Every year, six million people visit the Grand Canyon. Most go to see the beautiful views, walk out on the skywalk, or for popular tourist activities like helicopter tours, hiking, and rafting.

But another small group of people—less than one percent of all visitors—do the daunting rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, and among these, fewer than one in 10 do it in one day. It’s a 50-mile trek from the South Rim to the bottom of the canyon, up to the North Rim, and then back with a nearly 11,000-foot total elevation gain.

Dr. Paul Chan, a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, has done this challenging hike 10 years in a row. The reason for his trip is not about accomplishing a physical feat but a much bigger purpose.

“We walk because we have decided that the problem of hunger is not too big for us to become involved and that it is inexcusable to stay on the sideline,” Dr. Chan said.

Over the past decade, Dr. Chan’s annual Grand Canyon hike has raised more than $835,000 for the Kansas City-Heart of America CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty) Hunger Walk. The organization funds sustainable hunger solutions throughout the world and has programs in more than 20 countries.

The money raised supports things like food security, potable water projects in areas where women and young girls must walk long distances every day to get clean water, latrines and public hygiene initiatives in third-world countries, and more.

A quarter of the funds goes toward Kansas City-based programs to combat hunger and poverty. Some of those programs include Harvesters Community Food Network, The Urban Farming Guys, Cherith Brook House, Sheffield Place, and Reconciliation Services.

“It’s not just about giving out food,” Dr. Chan said. “All of these organizations have been trying to think about how to build community and build a conversation… that’s how you change lives and create opportunities.”

Dr. Chan was inspired to start the annual Grand Canyon hunger walk after seeing a man sleeping on the street while walking around his neighborhood with his youngest son, who was six years old at the time.

“My son kept asking me about the gentleman we had seen, and it really struck up a bigger conversation,” Dr. Chan said. “Community service had always been a part of my life, but it became clear we hadn’t embedded our family with those values and that commitment. So, we decided to raise awareness about hunger issues in our own community.”

The first two years, Dr. Chan did the Grand Canyon hike by himself. Each year since then, his group has grown larger and larger.

The diverse group of hikers is made up of different ages, backgrounds, and professions. Pre-teens, high school students, CEOs, teachers, financial analysts, physicians, republicans, and democrats have all come together over the years to hike for the same cause.

“It really highlights that hunger is something that everybody feels strongly about and our diverse group is committed to raising awareness for,” Dr. Chan said.

This year, 14 people participated in the 10th annual hike. Four of them walked the full 50 miles to the North Rim and back.

To celebrate a decade of the successful hike, those who did the full trek took extra time to appreciate the natural beauty and grandeur of the canyon. Instead of going 50 miles in one day like previous years, the group stayed at the North Rim overnight to savor the decade of accomplishment and see the breathtaking morning view.

Another thing that made this year’s hike special was one of the participants. Nate Miller, a 33-year-old heart transplant recipient, was the first patient to go on the hike. And he did all 50 miles!

Nate was heart transplant #747 at Saint Luke’s in April 2017 just weeks before the birth of his first child. Now, the husband and father of two is hoping to inspire other transplant recipients.  

“It’s incredible to think about—at the lowest point when I was the sickest, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs,” Nate said. “Within six months of transplant, I ran my first 5K, at 18 months I cycled 500 miles across the state of Iowa, and now I’ve hiked 50 miles through the Grand Canyon… there is life after transplant.”

Dr. Chan said in many ways, Nate embodies what the hike is all about.

“It’s an opportunity to give back, and he’s giving back in a meaningful way after receiving the life-saving gift of a new heart, a new chance on life, by inspiring other transplant patients to become active, take on physical challenges, and not hold back.”

Whether giving back to your community means going on a 50-mile hike through the Grand Canyon or finding something closer to home, Dr. Chan emphasizes taking action is the key.

“Making that first step and breaking away from the inertia of your busy life is the hardest, but it’s the most important part,” Dr. Chan said. “We learned very quickly that we always receive so much more than we’ve given.” 

Learn more about the annual Grand Canyon CROP Hunger Walk and how you can support the cause.