Mission Trips: How DPMs Are Making An Impact Worldwide

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By Robi Garthwait, Contributing Editor

More and more DPMs are volunteering their time and considerable expertise to travel abroad to help those in need of medical attention. While the concept of missionary work is certainly not new, the number of opportunities to help others across the globe seemingly grows each year. It is not only the patients in other countries who benefit from the gifts these trips provide. Daniel Lee, DPM, AACFAS, remembers going on mission trips as an elementary school student while living in South America. He currently serves on the faculty of the Baja Project for Crippled Children. Since 1976, the Baja Project has been treating children free of charge at the Mexicali Red Cross Hospital in Baja California, Mexico. The nonprofit corporation is funded entirely through corporate and private donations although Dr. Lee notes a major source of income comes from the annual Baja Project Seminar on Pediatric Foot and Ankle Surgery. Dr. Lee, who also serves on the faculty at the LAC+USC Medical Center, became involved in the Baja Project as a resident in 1999. “As a podiatric surgical resident, I was fortunate to acquire specific pediatric surgical training,” recalls Dr. Lee. “The faculty that I trained with was very supportive toward medical missions. Now, as part of the faculty for the Baja Project, I have been able to apply my education and training, and provide specific medical and surgical services to the people in need.” At year-round clinics, Dr. Lee regularly treats children with conditions ranging from pediatric clubfoot to congenital deformities to acquired neuromuscular disorders of the lower extremities. He describes “the smile of a child being able to walk and the tears of joy of parents watching their child walk for the very first time,” as the most rewarding aspects of the job. According to Dr. Lee, part of the Baja Project’s goal and mission is to promote education and they teach members of the orthopedic community the surgical procedures involved for the correction and the postoperative treatment needed for each patient. Dr. Lee says they “strongly emphasize” the Ponseti method for treating clubfoot deformity and that quick intervention in these cases is essential. Challenges On Mission Trips Go Beyond The Medical Even apart from the medical side, the work can be difficult. “Visiting third-world countries is quite a challenge,” admits Dr. Lee. “But actually going there for missions is much more than challenging.” Dr. Lee cites customs, religion and socioeconomic and behavioral changes as some of the factors that require high levels of knowledge and sensitivity on the part of specialists visiting foreign countries. “Financial support is always a concern,” notes Dr. Lee. “Furthermore, having the proper team of physicians and supporting staff is crucial.” Dr. Lee says there are many other things to consider, from receiving authorization from local authorities and transporting hundreds of boxes of supplies to the site to educating local surgeons and even gaining the respect and friendship of local residents. “It is very important to realize that we are there as ambassadors representing not only our country, as Americans in a foreign land, but we are also representing podiatric foot and ankle surgeons,” adds Dr. Lee. The impact of mission work on Dr. Lee’s life cannot be overstated. “This is about making a difference,” he says. “If we can make a difference in this world as individuals and as podiatric surgeons, then I think we have achieved part of our goals as physicians and human beings sharing this world.” Heeding The Call To Serve Patrick DeHeer, DPM, credits his first mission trip to Honduras three years ago with awakening a “call to serve those in need with the gifts God has given me.” Dr. DeHeer, who practices in central Indiana and is team podiatrist for the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever, went to Honduras with a large mission group from a church in Little Rock, Ark. He says his initial experience was “fantastic” and has led to three subsequent mission trips. According to Dr. DeHeer, the Little Rock team has been going to Honduras for several years now. The group is comprised of about 90 missionaries, some medically trained and some not. In fact, the experience in Honduras left such a positive impact on Dr. DeHeer that he wanted to help out in another country as well. After doing some research on the Internet, he spearheaded a trip to Haiti in September 2003.

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I am still a student looking into going into this field. My mindset is just like the doctors mentioned here!

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