Who, What, Where | Kyle Sheets, MD, FAAFP

Kyle Sheets, MD, FAAFP, received the AAFP Humanitarian Award this week. Sheets has been in private practice for 17 years in Muleshoe, Texas, a town of about 5,000 northwest of Lubbock. Before this year's FMX, Sheets talked about a person, place, and thing that greatly impacted his career. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Kyle Sheets, MD, FAAFP & Roland Stevens, MD

Kyle Sheets, MD, FAAFP, started a non-profit organization called Physicians Aiding Physicians Abroad. He first went to Africa in 1999 and met Roland Stevens, MD


I met him the first time I went to Africa in 1999. He was an American doctor who had been in Zimbabwe since 1962. He just retired two years ago at the age of 87. Through all of my years of going to Africa, he became a very close mentor, close friend, and a very good influence on me.

He was a very humble man, very hardworking, very compassionate, and every day served the people at this very busy hospital out in the bush in Africa.

He taught me a lot about life—a lot about the right way to be compassionate and treat people. Sometimes, we have an air of compassion that suits us, but is really not sensitive to the people we treat. An important part of compassion is understanding the patient, understanding the people that we are dealing with, and putting ourselves in their shoes, so to speak. It goes beyond the appearance of compassion, instead getting down to where life is really lived, which is sometimes messy, and dealing with people where they are.


I never had any desire to spend time in a foreign country on mission work or medical work or anything like that, but I had an opportunity in 1999—while I was in residency—to go to Zimbabwe and spend a month at a 150-bed surgical hospital there. I ended up taking my wife and all 10 children. It was a life-changing experience for all of us. It was a great family time, a great educational time, and a great time of spiritual growth.

I went from having zero desire to have anything to do with foreign medical missions to being pretty overwhelmed by the experience and wanting others to experience that as well. We found that many people were somewhat hesitant to go by themselves. I ended up forming a non-profit organization called Physicians Aiding Physicians Abroad (papamissions. org). Through that organization, we have taken hundreds of people to Africa—doctors, nurses, non-medical people. We've also sent several million dollars-worth of medical supplies and equipment to various places in the world, including Africa. From the start, we became involved in other parts of the world and are completing building a hospital in Guatemala that will serve about 250,000 Teekay Indians in a remote area of the country.


We lost a son, Tyler, in a car accident at age 19 in 2006, four days before Christmas. He was a great young man, influenced a lot of people. Everybody loved him. He loved helping people, loved going to Africa. He lived a lot of life in 19 years and influenced a lot of people.

The unspeakable pain of a parent losing a child, there's no way to describe that, but it was obviously a permanent change in my life, and our family's life. In many ways, it brought us together even closer than we already were.

Even though that pain exists every day to some extent, there are also very positive things that came from that— the closeness it brought about, the focus on life for all of us, and the importance making today count—not getting caught up in chasing after things that don't really matter. As a physician, you're really busy. The workload is difficult at times, and I think it's really important for us to sometimes step back and realize: What am I doing this for? What's important, and where do I really want to put my focus today?