The Anatomy of A Medical Mission

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Medical Missions to various towns in the Philippines is now a regular ritual for many Filipino-American organizations in the United States. Desirous of helping our underprivileged fellowmen and obviously heeding the call from within their own heart, these dedicated and benevolent countrymen of ours spend time, effort and personal money, and some risk to their own health and safety, to journey across the oceans to offer their medical expertise for free to our people. These balikbayan volunteers are quite aware of the fact that theirs is only a small token of what they all want to provide our underserved fellow Filipinos in these villages and rural areas. What impresses me most is their tenacity, sincerity, sacrifices and perseverance, inspite of all odds, logistic, funding and otherwise, including heartless and unsavory comments from some inconsiderate colleagues who are just standing by and watching while the missionaries sweat.

The Philippine-American Association of North Carolina (PAANC), a socio-civic and humanitarian organization based in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A., is an example of benevolence and service at its best among the medical missions. We heard this group was arriving in Manila last weekend to proceed to Zambales and Western Pangasinan for their mission. We welcome them with applause and gratitude on behalf of countless fellowmen of ours they will minister medical care to.

Founded in 1988 under the leadership of Internist Arturo de Leon, M.D., of Paranaque, now a resident of Raleigh, N.C., PAANC has evolved quietly and without fanfare into a respected and proven humanitarian group, well-known even in the United States as Carolina Medical Mission (CMM). Among the stalwart members of CMM, who provide significant leadership, impetus and support to the project are Fred T. Ng, M.D., and his wife, Anita, also of Raleigh.

The PAANC medical mission provides general surgery and cataract surgery, medical and pediatric clinics, providing free medical and surgical care, and free medications, to hundreds and hundred of people each year. These are our men, women and children who would otherwise not have the medical care they need because of poverty and the remoteness of their areas.

Major surgeries include hernia repair, thyroidectomy, harelip repair, gallbladder surgery, mastectomy, dental surgery and eye surgery. Intra-occular lens are donated by Alcon, U.S.A., and surgical packs by SEE International of Santa Barbara, California. Sometimes, when surgery lasts late in the evening, ordinary flashlights serve to illuminate the operating field for the surgeons, when brown out or power failure confronts the team. It seems nothing can stop them from accomplishing their objectives.

The volunteers pay for their own airfare and other expenses on every mission. They leave their loved ones in the United States and fly thousands of miles to lend a helping hand, no matter how small or how briefly, to our suffering fellow Filipinos. Besides their regular trek the Philippines two to three times a year, the CMM volunteers have also donated and constructed artesian wells in rural areas where people used to go to rivers for their water, and where contaminated water-related diseases abound. They have coordinated with PEACE, USA, in this venture.

Public health education and self-help programs are two other projects of CMM, well-aware that knowledge and self-reliant bayanihan spirit are still the best tools to fight diseases and poverty, and maintain self-esteem and respect.

The PAANC, through CMM, has served the following towns, many of them repeatedly: Cabanatuan and San Antonio, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Tacloban, Leyte, Zamboanga, Pampanga, Calumpit and Hagonoy, Bulacan, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, and Paranaque, Metro Manila. March year 2000 will find this group in Zambales and Western Pangasinan.

The other members of the Carolina Medical Mission are: Dr. Amado Chanco, Dr. Robert Truner, Dr. Cecile Soliven, Drs. Michael and Noel Sison, Dr. Rosemary E. de Leon, Drs. Benjamin and Nimfa Yu, Dr. Tony Ng, Drs. Raymond and Reza Belmonte, Drs. Sergio and Navora Cuison, Dr. Shirley Chan-Espino, Drs. Arsenio and Mae Frances Chavez, DMD, Dr. Brena Solivet, DMD, Dr. Leonardo Espinosa, DDS, Estrella Ventura, Margaret Fleischhauer, Rey Garcia, Marites Sebasian, Eden Olarte-Mina, Melina Turner, Ruth de Leon, Luming Rowan, Alexander and Sally Solivet, Joseph C. Ng, Dee Quiambao, James Marshall, Santos and Rose Ocampo, Ric del Rosario, Carmen Mosher, Ruby Chanco, Brenda Carpio, Atty. Luperiano Villanueva, Mabini Mayor and Mrs. Ariel de Guzman.

On each mission, the 24 U.S.-based volunteers bring in surgical equipment and instruments, medical supplies, drugs and educational materials. Twenty Philippine-based volunteers provide them with local support. Service hours, including surgeries usually last till almost midnight each day, because the demand is always heavy and patients travel miles by foot to seek medical care. No one is turned away unattended. Sometimes the supplies of medications runs dry, and they have to dole out additional personal funds for the IV fluids and extra medications.

"It always breaks our heart to go back to the United States without having been able to serve every sick child, woman and man needing medical care; our only consolation is that we are coming back again," laments a volunteer, which is a very common sentiment among all medical missionaries with this group or other groups.

Having been the pioneer medical volunteer (a year after my graduation from medical school) to Palanan, Isabela, (and my classmate, Dr. Arturo de Leon to Kapangan) in 1962, under the Work-A-Year-With-The-People (later called MARIA) project of former Senator Raul S. Mangalpus, now Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., and Manuel Quezon, Jr., I could emphatize well with these selfless kababayan of ours and feel their frustration for not being able to do more for our people. Indeed, theirs is a noble act of sacrifice, charity and love.

I salute them and all the other medical missionaries, for their caring benevolence to our fellowmen, and most especially, for their noble dreams for our beloved country and people.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.