Dr. Carl Lum, second from left, removes a tumor from a patient during an Aloha Medical Mission trip to Bacolod, Philippines, that concluded a few weeks ago. He was assisted by Dr. Bienvenido Cabotaje, third from left, an anesthesiologist from the Philippines who has volunteered for several missions, and local Filipino staff at Jose Locsin Memorial Hospital.

Medical mission brings
aloha to the Philippines

The trip to give free health care
touches first-time volunteers

For 29-year-old Hamed Ahmadinia, a recent trip to the Philippines with the Aloha Medical Mission strengthened his interest in medicine and made volunteerism a part of his life.

"I feel very fortunate to be part of a group that actually contributes to humanity at a cost of self-sacrifice," said Ahmadinia, who wants to be a doctor.

Ahmadinia and 50 other volunteers took part in the Aloha Medical Mission in Silay, Bacolod, in southern Philippines last year, where more than 4,700 patients received free treatment and operations.

Members of the Aloha Medical Mission are currently setting up a team of volunteers to travel to countries in Southeast Asia affected by the tsunami and help treat people suffering from infectious diseases due to water contamination and sanitation problems.

Meanwhile, members of the mission are collecting medical supplies that will be sent to Sri Lanka, one of the countries hit by the tsunami.

A majority of the volunteers who took part in the mission to the Philippines during the second week of November were from Hawaii. Some were from South Carolina, Guam and the Philippines.

The team included 23 physicians, eight nurses, two pharmacists, a physical therapist and 17 volunteers. Those who participated in the mission traveled to the Philippines at their own expense.

Physicians treated 4,384 patients at the Silay Civic Center and conducted 331 minor and major operations at the Jose Locsin Memorial Hospital.

The trip to the Philippines was the second time Ahmadinia volunteered in the mission since going to Laos a couple of months earlier.

In Silay, Ahmadinia helped transport medical supplies and observed minor surgeries being performed.

"He absorbed things like a sponge," said Dr. Jorge Camara, an ophthalmologist and vice president of the Aloha Medical Mission.

Merlinda Garma, 23, who also plans to pursue a career in medicine, said she got more than she expected from her trip to the Philippines.

Garma and her younger sister, Toni, were both first-time volunteers with the mission.

"We realized the trip validated the fact that this is exactly what we want to be doing for the rest of our lives," said Garma, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Hawaii in May and is currently applying to medical programs. "We already knew this is what we wanted to do. This basically took it over the edge."

Like Ahmadinia, Garma wants to make the medical mission a part of her lifestyle.

"The message and the help they provide to people is extraordinary," she said.

Camara said, "If we created a new generation of physicians whose life is dedicated to help others selflessly, then the Aloha Medical Mission has done more than its work."

Another first-time volunteer said she was impressed by everyone involved in the mission.

"It was a wonderful way to feel that you made some small contribution to something much larger than yourself," said volunteer Diane Anderson, director of instruction at Punahou School.

"It was just amazing that people would give this much to help people that they don't even know and would never see again," Anderson said.

The Aloha Medical Mission recently shipped $10,000 worth of medical supplies and medicine to areas that were affected by the tropical storms and typhoons that struck the northeastern Philippines.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 880,000 people were displaced. Some of the medical supplies were donated by the Queen's Medical Center. Other supplies were either purchased or donated by the Aloha Medical Mission.

So far, 69 missions have been sent to the Philippines, Vietnam, Vanuatu, China, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Laos in 21 years. Through the mission, 186,132 patients were treated. The Aloha Medical Mission is scheduled to travel to Laos in February and Bangladesh in August.

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