Just after collecting his diploma in 2009, Patrick Mathay embarked on a bike trip that would steer him toward his future career. It started in Oregon and ended 78 days and 4,000 miles later in Guatemala.
“It was an incredible adventure full of tropical storms, benevolent strangers, many flat tires, and one epic battle with rattlesnakes,” Mathay said.
Mathay embarked on the journey to raise money for the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), an organization he became involved with as a KU undergraduate. His first summer as an intern was in 2009. He spent weeks bumping down the back roads of rural Guatemala and helping the organization deliver high-quality prostheses to patients regardless of income. The experience would stick with him, igniting his passion for a career he never expected.
While attending KU, Mathay said, he initially had trouble deciding on a major because he was curious about everything. He started with at least five different major tracks and eventually settled on three majors: Spanish, history and European studies with a business minor.
Mathay reached out to the Range of Motion Project because he was looking to gain international experience and put his studies in Spanish to good use. As a volunteer, Mathay visited patients in their homes to evaluate previously delivered prostheses, making sure they worked and helped improve quality of life.
“Looking back, this experience completely altered my worldview, and continues to define my work today,” Mathay said.
As an undergraduate, the work Mathay did with ROMP was a big part of his life, but he had never considered the possibility of turning that passion into his career. Initially, he had plans to be a lawyer. He interned with the State Senate in Topeka, worked on a congressional campaign and got accepted to law school in Boston.
At the last moment, Mathay decided not to attend law school and started working for the charitable arm of TripAdvisor.com, structuring grants and developing partnerships with non-profits. Even while working full-time, ROMP was always on his mind. He used his nights, weekends and vacation time to volunteer with the organization. He helped write grants for the project and would travel to Guatemala to implement programs and run medical trips.
After a few years in Boston working for TripAdvisor, Mathay first began to consider a full-time position with ROMP. In 2013, the Boston Marathon bombing marked a turning point for Mathay’s involvement with the group. He ran the Boston Marathon and witnessed the aftermath of the bombing at the finish line, where many people suffered traumatic injuries to their limbs and would require amputation.
“That was when I finally decided to pull the trigger. Six weeks later I quit my job, sold my stuff, and moved to Quito. And here we are,” Mathay said.
Now serving as the organization’s executive director, Mathay has been involved with most aspects of the project including operations, device fabrication, development, clinic management and executive strategy.
According to Mathay, 80 percent of amputees live in low-income countries and less than three percent of that population has access to prosthetic technology. Inspired by revolutionary technologies and an ever-expanding network of information, Mathay aims to further the reach of these advancements, especially when it comes to the area of prostheses.
Recently, Mathay has partnered with fellow KU alumni to shoot a documentary about ROMP in Ecuador. Jake Farmer (c’09 in art history) and Jordan Farmer (e’09) are a husband and wife duo who operate a Kansas City-based film company named Olive Media. By day they are a designer and an elementary school teacher. In their spare time, they make films. They both traveled to Quito, Ecuador, to shoot the film, and they will both travel to ROMP’s clinic in Zacapa, Guatemala, in February to shoot another.
“Transformative, impactful technology already exists; we just need to apply it better,” Mathay said.