One of the greatest joys of my career is my participation in the International Medical Alliance (IMA Helps). For several years I have traveled with a team to countries where people are not getting the medical care that they need. For example, a patient with cleft lip or club foot that would have been immediately repaired in the USA may go many years into adulthood with disfiguring disease. The open fire cooking common to these countries often leads to terrible burns and scarring in children that has never been treated.
I’ve provided anesthesia for surgeons and joined other doctors and specialists to Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and most recently El Salvador where I have helped with hundreds of operations.
The medical need of these people is just one aspect of their poverty. Each year I bring one of my children so that they can help in the hospital, but also meet the patients and their families. The first year that my son Caleb came along he was only about twelve years old. He saw a worried child and gave her a stuffed animal. The child was delighted to a degree you cannot imagine among children that live in the suburbs and shop at Costco and Wal-Mart. The truth is that we suffer from too many toys in the kids’ rooms. (Yes, each of our three children has their own room!). As we interact with the villagers of Nicaragua, my children and I are reminded of how good we have it. In the villages, it is typical that several children and their parents may share one room.
Now every year for at least six years as we pack several hard suitcases with high tech medical equipment, padding in the crevices is filled with little teddy bears and stuffed animals that my children pack and others have donated. Every year one of my children goes with me. Once we’re settled into the host country, the long hours are spent by my children and me working hard in the makeshift hospital. They may work as “runners” among the operating rooms, cooperating with many other volunteers. It gives a whole new meaning to “Get ‘er done!” And every year they ask to personally give away something of their own to one of these anxious children waiting for their medical treatment or for their parents.
Although it is a pleasure to assemble an operating room and treat all these patients that may otherwise never be treated, in a very real sense, we also treat ourselves: we expand our own awareness and regain some perspective. I came from a country devastated by communism and the poverty that it causes. I won’t forget. But especially for our children, the direct interaction with destitute real people is priceless.
It’s been an honor to serve with International Medical Alliance, a small nonprofit group made up of all volunteers who pay their own way to provide medical care and operations in third world countries. There is lots of preparation work, but because its medical missions never exceed 10 days, IMAHelps attracts volunteers of all ages, both medical and non-medical. If you would like to volunteer or donate to help us continue this work, check out http://www.internationalmedicalalliance.org/
Right now I’m in El Salvador with my 13 year old son Matthew. See you when we get back!
To view our Press Release on my El Salvador Mission Trip, click here.