Written by Robert W. Smith, M.D.
After two years of preparation, 74 members of the 2014 Philippines Minnesota Medical Association (PMMA) mission trip flew from the Twin Cities to Catarman, Northern Samar Province in the Philippines on January 30th. Dr. Bernard Quebral, an internist from HealthPartners, organized this and the 7 previous missions to the Philippines. Working closely with Hope for the Cities, a charity from St. Louis Park that collects unused medical supplies from area hospitals, PMMA volunteers filled three shipping containers. These containers, shipped in the Fall of 2013, had supplies for the mission and food packets for survivors of the recent typhoon that hit the Philippines.
The journey ended after 34 hours of travel by plane and bus through Tokyo, Manila and Calbayog. We were greeted by a welcoming brunch at the Governor’s residence. Most of the group slept for an hour or two and then walked to the Northern Samar Provincial Hospital to complete preparation of newly renovated operating rooms waiting to be stocked with supplies shipped from Minnesota. A pre-mission group of volunteers had spent the previous week working with hospital staff to get these rooms ready. Down the hall from the operating rooms there was a make shift 3 chair dental clinic and next to that there was a minor surgery suite with 3 beds. The group then inspected the outpatient clinic area. An outdoor arena a short walk from the hospital had been converted into clinic space with areas set up for adult medicine, pediatrics, dermatology and eye glasses.
The real work of the mission started on Sunday. The surgical teams screened patients for the coming week’s schedule of cases. Plastic surgeons saw children with cleft lips and palates, gynecologists saw women in need of surgical care and two of us from Midwest ENT screened and selected patients with head and neck surgical problems. Most of these patients had large goiters. The population we treated cannot afford iodized salt which would prevent the goiters. During the course of the next week we performed 23 thyroidectomies and 8 other head and neck operations. The plastics team repaired over 50 children’s cleft lips. The gynecologist operated on 20 women with a variety of problems. The outpatient clinic treated over 3000 patients and the minor surgery team preformed more than 200 minor surgeries.
As is usually the case, the experience was life changing for the mission team, not just the patients. The next mission, planned for early February 2016, is in Bataan on the island of Luzon.