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30-minute pitch may help decide Nobel Prize

Two Pasco men will travel to Norway to campaign for the peace prize to go to a group of doctors working in India.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


Pasco County will have a say this summer as to who wins the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Two west Pasco men -- retired businessman Michael Murphy and Sevens Springs Rotary Club member David Barzelay -- will meet with a non-voting adviser to the five-person Nobel committee in Oslo, Norway. They will try to persuade him to support awarding what is arguably the most prestigious honor in the world to a group, partially run by a Clearwater plastic surgeon, that battles deformity in India.

At 1 p.m. June 25, they get 30 minutes.

"The thought that they would win is almost too much to conceive," said Barzelay, who is also the executive director of the Pasco-Hernando Community College foundation.

Barzelay and Murphy have joined the effort as fundraisers and unofficial public relations workers. Murphy learned of the project and brought his friend on board to help raise funds. The two men traveled to India last year, saw the mobile clinic in action and garnered support from an Indian rotary group.

They are about to donate $40,000 to the cause: $20,000 from Rotary International, $10,000 from the Rotary district and $10,000 from Seven Springs and other local rotary clubs. It will be the project's largest gift from the United States, they said.

India Project will use the $40,000 to buy sutures, bandages and other equipment -- all supplies that are needed to fix cleft lip or palate, a deformity that plagues Indian children and condemns them to a life of poverty within the Hindu caste system. In India, roughly one in 500 kids are born with deformity, which can be as severe as a split in the lip all the way up to the nose.

In its more than 30-year life, the project has helped more than 50,000 kids.

If $40,000 can stretch enough supplies for hundreds of surgeries, imagine what $1-million would do. That's approximately the amount that comes with the Nobel Prize.

"Who wants to be a millionaire? We do, so we can help humanity," Murphy said. "It would give this project eternal life."

The peace prize is announced every October and awarded each December. Previous winners include past Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.

The India Project was conceived in 1968 by Dr. Sharad Kumar Dicksheet, who is treated much like a deity in India.

Barzelay, 52, and Murphy, 58, said it won't be hard to pitch.

There have been 56,320 surgeries, zero deaths.

The group has no administrative costs, they said. It is done solely by volunteers.

The doctors change lives in 15 minutes.

They fix the lip, and a reconstructed lip removes evidence that a kid has been punished by the gods -- a Hindu belief. When a child is born with the deformity, the father likely loses his job. From the day they are born, these children's fates are determined -- they can't get a job, and because they can marry only someone with the same defect, the fates of their children are sealed as well.

In some places, 1,500 people slept in front of clinic to be first in line on surgery day, Murphy said. The only prerequisite: "They're dirt poor," he said.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, nominated the doctors, including Clearwater's Dr. Paul Dreschnack, this year for fourth consecutive time, Murphy said. The Nobel committee does not release a list of nominees, but its web site says the organization has received more than 120 nominations per year in recent years.

Nominations can come from Nobel committee and institute members, national assembly members and governments, certain professors and members of other international organizations. The Nobel committee doesn't release results other than who won, but according to broadcast reports relayed to Dreschnack, they beat the pope last year.

They think they beat Bill Clinton, too.

Not bad for a group of 12 doctors who rotate shifts in India between November and April. This winter they fixed 6,300 faces, said Dreschnack, the assistant director.

He joined his former professor, Dicksheet, 11 years ago and now is heir apparent to the terminally ill 70-year-old doctor who lives in New York.

Murphy and Barzelay, especially Murphy, sing Dreschnack's praises while the far more low-key 44-year-old doctor rattles off do-good sayings he has patterned his life after.

"You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give," he says.

That leaves the bragging to Murphy and Barzelay. Not a problem, Murphy said. He thinks this year could be the year, especially when the men in Oslo see pictures of what 15 minutes can do for an Indian child.

"This," Murphy said, "is the best kept secret in the world."

-- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 3452.

To help

To donate to the India Project, send checks to India Project, 10534 Eveningwood Court, Trinity, FL 34655.

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