Sunday, December 21, 2003

Care mission
aids Filipinos

Aloha Medical Mission volunteers
treated 6,690 people during a
five-day visit to the Philippines

Christmas came early for 6,690 people needing medical care in remote towns in the Philippines.

They received free treatment during a recent five-day visit by 58 doctors, nurses and other volunteers in the Honolulu-based Aloha Medical Mission. It was the largest of 61 missions to nine countries in the organization's 20-year history, and the first since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Several other missions to the Philippines were canceled because of security concerns due to Muslim insurgency in the southern part of the country and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Aloha Medical Mission President Dr. Ramon Sy, who led the expedition to Hawaii's "sister province" of Pangasinan, said the group took enough medicine and supplies for 1,000 patients a day for five days.

"Each area we go, about 1,000 patients are waiting for us," he said, noting this was the second mission to Pangasinan and that the local people were well organized.

One day, the volunteers treated more than 1,700 patients, he said, and they had to get emergency medicine from pharmacies in the region.

The days were long and extremely busy, "but it's fun ... The next day, everybody feels fired up again," he said. "Everybody asks, 'Where are we going next?'"

The mission volunteers pay their own air fare, board and lodging, amounting to at least $850 per person and more than $1,000 for those from the mainland.

The volunteers included family practice and internal medicine specialists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons, pediatricians, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, nurses, recovery room specialists and lay volunteers, including support personnel for medical and surgical equipment taken on the mission.

The volunteers worked with nurses and physicians in the Philippines, including four ophthalmologists who received advanced training from Honolulu ophthalmologist Jorge Camara through a program of the University of Hawaii School of Medicine and the Consuelo Foundation. Camara is vice president of the Aloha Medical Mission.

Volunteers saw patients from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for five days, including Saturday and Sunday, in three different towns, he said.

A surgical team led by Dr. Carl Lum, with general and plastic surgeons and anesthesiologists, performed 217 operations on large abdominal tumors, goiters, cleft palates and other deformities.

Dr. Remedios Sonson, Kaiser obstetrician and gynecologist, led an obstetrical team that performed many procedures on women with large ovarian and uterine tumors.

Many patients who had never seen a doctor for medical problems were treated by a team led by Dr. Vernon Ansdell, a Kaiser infectious disease specialist.

Sy said the medical mission is trying to get visas to bring two children, one aged 3 or 4 and the other 10, to Shriners Hospital for Children for surgery for clubfeet.

"The 10-year-old is emotionally shy and cries when people approach him. ... Unless we do something for this boy, he is doomed the rest of his life," Sy said.

At least one-third of the volunteers had been on previous missions, some many times, Sy said. "When we go there, it's as ambassadors of our country. They become inspired by that. I think that's the beauty of the mission."

The patients are "happy and thrilled," he said. "You should see the faces, how they express appreciation. ... I cannot say it in words.

"You've got to go there to see how it feels. At the end, you see how these people (volunteers) become friends with the local people, doctors and nurses," he added.

"And when you work with local people, you become as one. It's a very inspiring thing. ... It is not only medicine but it's the aloha we give, something so strong."

More than 200,000 patients have been treated and more than 7,000 have received surgery from Aloha Medical Mission volunteers over the past 20 years in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Vanuatu.


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