Spiders as big as your shoe. Rats in your sleeping quarters. Heat so oppressive there are no words to describe it. Sounds like a typical doctor’s vacation, right?
Well maybe not your typical holiday and definitely not your typical doctors. Drs. Mike Feuerbacher and Lisa Gorry-DiStefano, physicians at St. Francis Family Health Care and St. Francis Hospital, decided to take a few days to participate on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) with Grace Covenant International, a ministry based in Platte City.
From May 14 to 21, the two physicians went to the DR to offer their medical services to the people in the San Cristobal area including stops at an orphanage, a refugee camp and ‘the projects’ (socio-economically depressed neighborhoods) along with making a few house calls. No easy task as there was no air conditioning on the bus that was used for travel, and it often broke down.
The most shocking revelation on the trip for the physicians was the state of the public hospitals. “We saw women having babies in beds without sheets,” Dr. Feuerbacher said. “Frequently, there was more than one woman having a baby in the same bed. Sometimes there were three in a bed. And there were 8 to 10 people in one room.”
Having no sheets on the beds was only the beginning. They visited a neonatal ICU that offered oxygen treatment only; there was no ventilator. Electricity was unreliable with black outs occurring during the day, and there was no hot water.
The doctors saw chronic wounds and paralyzed children and adults. Dr. Gorry-DiStefano stated that malnutrition was one of the primary concerns for the many of the children they saw. “We saw a 7-pound two-year-old,” she said.
In addition to the two physicians, a nurse practitioner, two physical therapists, and a volunteer who worked on construction attended the trip. They also had the support of local individuals including the donation of antibiotics that provided truly life-saving treatment for some of the children.
During their short time, the two Maryville doctors saw 100s of patients through clinics. “Free clinics are routinely available to the DR people, but there is no medicine to give them,” Dr. Feuerbacher explained.
Although they dealt with a variety of conditions, a lot of time was taken teaching how to take care of illnesses and injuries. “Educating the people was one of the biggest jobs we had,” Dr. Gorry-DiStefano explained. “We tried to teach them how to treat their wounds correctly.”
The people of the area showed their appreciation. “Every single patient was smiling,” Dr. Feuerbacher noted, “even the one that had his leg tied to a milk jug.” The filled jug was used as a weight to keep his broken leg stationary until the family could afford the needed medical treatment.
“The patients we saw were happy no matter where they were,” Dr. Gorry-DiStefano said. “They were joyful people and enjoyed each other.”
Both physicians were grateful to have made the trip but also were glad to get back home. The mission gave them an appreciation of their own surroundings and advanced medical services, and further appreciation for the dedication and level of caring of missionaries in countries like the DR.