Prescription for Kindness

Hometown Heroes, People
on January 6, 2002

Toby Young believes he was placed on earth to serve others, and the Belton, Texas, pharmacist has done just that—from making sure AIDS patients get needed drugs to secretly mowing the lawns of elderly folks.

Vickie Moose, who worked with AIDS patients through the local Red Cross in the late 1980s, learned they had to drive 40 miles to Waco to get AZT. Area pharmacies would not carry the drug, which is effective in treating this disease that weakens the body’s immune system.

“In those days pharmacists were afraid if other customers saw AIDS patients in their pharmacy it would put them out of business,’’ she says. At her urging, Young started stocking AIDS medications at his drugstore, The Medicine Shoppe franchise, in the town of 14,623.

“Toby went out on a limb to do the right thing,” Moose says.

Climbing out took some soul-searching, Young says. “AIDS patients were like lepers,” Young says. “Then a priest friend reminded me they’re God’s children. I had to put myself in their shoes.”

Young then helped the Texas Pharmacy Association develop a course on HIV for pharmacists, and now he serves on the Texas Department of Health’s HIV Medication Committee.

Besides his regular pharmacy work, Young is a compounding pharmacist, or a druggist who can mix a unique product for an individual patient—human or animal—at a doctor’s request.

“For example, in the last days of life people can’t swallow,” Young says, who compounds drugs for the Heart of Texas Hospice. “Often we can put the same drug they’d take orally in a topical gel.”

Young says compounding uses everything he’s ever learned—and then some. Once he filled a veterinarian’s prescription to treat an ostrich’s eye infection. Its owner came back to the pharmacy after administering just two doses.

“Have you ever chased a big bird to put drops in its eye?” the bird owner asked.

The pharmacist’s solution: load the medicine in a giant water gun. “From anywhere in the barnyard, he could shoot and get enough medicine in the ostrich’s eye to do the job,” Young says.

Young, 49, has a long list of community service that includes sponsoring a baseball team, volunteering with Meals on Wheels, working with the Belton Senior Center, and serving on the American Red Cross Bluebonnet Chapter executive committee.

His wife, Harriet, also a pharmacist, accompanies him on medical missions to Arteaga, Mexico, and dental missions to Honduras, sponsored by the Catholic Archdiocese of Austin, Texas. The Arteaga clinics attract villagers who walk as far as 25 miles from the mountains seeking treatment. In four days, the clinic sees from 1,300 to 1,500 patients, and pharmacists fill more than 2,000 prescriptions.

After his first mission to Artega in 1994, Young came home and asked Harriet to marry him. “I went on the next medical mission without him, and all the ladies were so excited, wanting to know if he’d asked me to marry him. I found out he’d been asking them the best way to propose,’’ she says.

Young’s volunteer helpers include Marlene Lastovica, cattle rancher and retired science teacher. “I was so moved by the energy of this man,” she says. “After working all day in the village, he and Harriet and another pharmacist would stay up until midnight or later restocking the pharmacy for the next day.”

Young likes to do little things for people secretly. He enters contests using the names of friends. And he is “the masked lawn mower” who will sneak out to an elderly person’s house and mow the lawn.

It’s no secret to his fellow professionals that Young’s service to others is exceptional. In 2001, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories honored him with the Bowl of Hygeia Award, which it presents to pharmacists for outstanding community service.