Doing Good “on the Fly”
[private] About 400 East Enders received free health care March 21-23 at the Oak Ridge Chapel and in Fiddler’s Bight from a group of medical volunteers from Kentucky.
The 11-member team, five of them associated with the St. John’s United Methodist Church in Prospect, Kentucky, near Louisville, included experts in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine and pharmacy. They treated community members of all ages for a wide spectrum of illnesses, dispensed free medicine and eyeglasses and handed out “well kits” to all comers comprising vitamin supplements and deworming medication for the intestinal parasites and related anemia that are endemic to the area. They also donated a defribillator to the public clinic in Oak Ridge.
“We’re rockin’!” quipped Rick Lawson, an internist from the University of Kentucky who had seen 41 patients before lunch Thursday. Typical complaints included high blood-pressure, arthritis, allergies, asthma and stomach complaints – “the same things we see in America,” he said, although he noted a higher incidence of diabetes due to the area’s high-starch diet.
Ann Grandon, the ob/gyn specialist on the team, saw many patients with bladder and pelvic infections. Candice Burns, the team’s pediatrician, saw lots of children with throat infections, mostly due to a hand-foot-and-mouth virus that was making the rounds in the community. Some children had blisters on their throats making it difficult for them to eat, for which she gave them a topical anaesthetic. Most were also anemic.
“I haven’t seen any real super-sick looking children yet,” said Burns, who previously administered first-aid at Mother Theresa’s homes in Calcutta and spent a month working at a hospital in Ghana, which may have colored her expectations. But she said she was getting lots of requests for antibiotics.
The three-day medical mission was the brainchild of Mike Spencer, who runs a medical equipment firm, DRE Inc., in Louisville and has organized three such trips to Roatan and three more to La Ceiba.
Spencer said it was a competitor of his, Dan Isabel, who got him into medical missionary work in Roatan. Isabel spent his teen years in Oak Ridge, where his mother, Jean, was a missionary. At a medical equipment trade show in San Francisco about 12 years ago, Spencer and Isabel got together for a beer, and Isabel described his medical missionary work and said he was thinking of quitting his business and devoting himself to it full time (which he did, founding The World is the Field, Inc., in Tampa, Florida). Spencer said he joked that he would “love to help you get out of the business” and offered to collaborate, raising funds to build a clinic on the grounds of the Oak Ridge Chapel. He subsequently sent down a container of medical equipment. “It didn’t hold up well in the air here,” Spencer said, so the next logical step was to organize a team to go down to Roatan to deliver health care directly to needy residents.
Spencer reached out to friends, neighbors, colleagues and his fellow parishioners at St. John’s to assemble a team with the necessary skill set. Three of them – Lawson, fellow internist Mike Hess and nurse Joyce Fletcher – have been on every trip since.
The first patient the team saw on the first trip was an 11-year-old girl named Angela who had a fused jaw – her father said from falling out of a tree when she was five but subsequently determined to be a birth defect – for which she had never received medical attention. Unable to open her mouth to eat, she was severely malnourished.
“She was tiny,” Spencer recalled, and the team was so moved by her predicament that after they got home they sent an e-mail to Pastor David Kelly of the Oak Ridge Chapel to ask what they could do for her. They sent money to take her for X-rays in San Pedro Sula and then to see a plastic surgeon from Florida on one of his twice-yearly visits to San Pedro Sula. After seeing Angela two or three times, Kelly said the surgeon concluded Angela would need to be treated in the United States. Spencer’s team arranged to get her a passport and a visa and to fly Angela and Kelly’s wife, Harriet, to Denver for the surgery and two months of follow-up.
When word got out about Angela, Spencer said interest in his medical missionary work surged, and “everything fell in place.” Angela’s story provided a “hook” to get other people to go on the trips, as well as to “beat up people for donations.”
Spencer said it cost about $18,500 to put together one of these trips, not counting what team members contribute themselves, most importantly their time. Donations come primarily from other people in the medical equipment business, neighbors and … Spencer’s poker-playing buddies.
“I said I would match them dollar-for-dollar on anything they put up,” Spencer said, “so they all chip in so they can hurt me.”
On this third and on future trips, Spencer said the teams would strive to provide improved patient follow-up by collaborating better with the local public clinic and also with other visiting medical teams from the United States. Pastor Kelly said about six such teams visit Oak Ridge each year, including one from Ohio and one from South Carolina expected in June, and another from South Carolina in August. [/private]