In September, I along with a group of amazing people traveled to Los Altos, Nicaragua for the grand opening of a medical clinic for the community there. The first few days we were in Nicaragua, we spent setting up the clinic to be prepared for a successful opening. We had local doctors at the opening, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and specialty doctors from the United States. We were able to offer a spectrum of medical coverage from general medicine to pediatrics to orthopedics.
Opening day at the clinic, my job was to triage patients. I took their medical history, vital signs, and found out their reason for visiting the clinic. Once patients were triaged, they were taken back to see a provider free of charge, which is a huge burden taken off these patients' shoulders, who come from a very poor area of Nicaragua. After their free consultation, patients were able to stop at the pharmacy in the clinic and purchase medications at low costs that are affordable for the people of this community. Everyone who attended the opening of the clinic was so patient with all of the workers that volunteered their time that day. All the patients and families of patients were so thankful for access to healthcare close to home.
Aside from opening the clinic, our group from Purpose Medical Mission also saw patients in their homes if they were not able to make it to the clinic. We also made time to visit the village and provide basic hygiene products for adults and treats for the children.
It was also an amazing experience to be able to visit the people of Los Altos, interact with them, and see where these people come from. Overall, the opening of Purpose Medical Mission Los Altos, Nicaragua was a success and I cannot wait to go back and see the progress and success that the team at the clinic will make. I am truly blessed that I was able to be a part of the opening and be a part of the amazing group of people that made it a success.
My name is Keith Stephenson, and I am an OR Nurse from Austin, Texas. I recently had an opportunity to travel to Mulungwishi, DRC with Purpose Medical Mission. This was one of the most rewarding and spiritually fulfilling things I have ever done.
I have known Sixtus Atabong, and through him, Purpose Medical Mission for 8 or 9 years now. I worked with them on a project when I was on staff at Grace Medical Center, and I have had a deep seeded desire to travel to Cameroon with them and see the "Container OR" in action ever since. I always seemed to find a reason why I couldn't go, and then when I moved to Austin 5 years ago, the desire kind of faded a little.
In late December of 2016 I started looking into it again, and by January 1st, I had decided that I was making the trip this year no matter what! I began communication with Sixtus and with Mike Riddell and Dr. Sammy Deeb – it was about this time that I learned that the Cameroon trip would not be happening, but that there was an opportunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a brief set-back, and from that moment I dove right in. I am so happy that I did.
From the moment this process started for me, from the initial planning phase, to the fundraising, to the slew of immunizations that I was required to get, this trip was blessed. I was broken down and humbled a number of times, and my heart overflowed with the love and support I received from family and friends. The countless conversations I had leading up to the travel were all meaningful, insightful and informative. Ladies and gentlemen, I was amazed and in awe with the outpouring, and I hadn't even stepped foot on the plane yet!!
On Saturday, August 5th, I travelled to Washington D.C., where I met the rest of the team; Dr. Bayouth and Robert, who I worked with in the past, and Chelsie, David, Tom, Jon and Jacob. From there we continued on to the Congo. We arrived in the Mission village of Mulungwishi at around 7pm on August 7th, and the welcome we received was absolutely breathtaking!! Every person in the village met our van on the driveway, clapping and dancing and cheering us in. They all wanted to hug or shake hands, and when we made our way through the lines, we were led into the church where we were introduced and celebrated even more.
The next day, started a long week of seeing patients in clinic and performing numerous surgeries to help with quality of life. We were there for a reason, and there was work to be done. Things were drastically different from what I am used to in American OR suites, but I was amazed at how caring and hardworking the staff is. They are truly dedicated to the jobs they perform, and very skilled at what they do. Some things I saw were heartbreaking, but through it all these resilient people kept surprising us, kept finding ways to hang on.
On about the second to last day we were there, as I walked down to the clinic from the mission house for about the 8th time that day, and maybe 40th time that week, I noticed a tree that I hadn't really noticed before. It was there every time, but I hadn't really paid a whole lot of attention to it. I noticed at this point, that it was nearly completely uprooted; the trunk was suspended almost parallel to the ground. The old limbs, each about 12 inches in diameter or greater, had all been cut away. Despite this, this tree found a way to live. It had dozens of smaller, green branches, stretching out of the amputated stumps of the old growth, reaching for the sky, covered in bright green leaves. In that moment it struck me… this tree was the epitome of life in the Congo. Discarded and left for dead, no real reason to thrive, and barely rooted in the dry dirt of the ground, but growing and vibrant and full of life nonetheless!
As I said, this trip was one of the most spiritual and meaningful things I have ever done. I have thought of little else since my return, and I relish any chance I get to go through the photos I have and share the stories with anyone who will listen. This place will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I can't wait to get back there again, and pick up where we left off. There is work to be done friends… and I promise you, if you were to ever make this adventure, you will be more blessed than blessing!
Take a few minutes to really look at these pictures and think about each one. Think about the life each one does or does not represent. The old dirty clinic where people sit outside in the dirt under the hot sun and wait sometimes all day or longer. The tiny operating room that doesn't know what sterilization is. The bathtub I gladly gave myself a sponge bath in each night with cold leftover water if I was lucky enough to have it. Four dirty walls with nothing more than a blanket hanging making a doorway. And that is called "home". X-Rays read from the light of the window in the doctor's office that has no electricty. Medications distributed to the people out of jelly jars. Doctors fellowshipping sitting outside on the steps to the entrance of the "hospital". The patient laying in that hospital bed with and old, cracked, never-cleaned mattress with no sheets. Look at the walls and the floors.
But that is the Congo and those people are grateful for what they have. We as Americans don't have a clue what being grateful means. We are entitled to more, right? Wrong! We are entitled to nothing. But we are blessed with everything.