It was only 7:30 AM and hundreds of patients were already lining up to be seen at the surgical mission put together by the World Surgical Foundation in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island, Philippines last February 2010. I had the privilege to join my first surgical mission and I saw with my own eyes the despair and the joy that some of these indigent patients experienced as they finally receive much needed medical treatment.
Meet Emma Sanchez. She was once of the patients I’ve helped translate for Dr. Paul Kruger, one of the volunteer surgeons at the surgical mission with the World Surgical Foundation. Dr. Kruger interviewed Emma before her scheduled surgery.
“How long have you had the pain in your lower abdomen?” Dr. Kruger asked.
“About ten years po,” Emma spoke meekly.
“Ten years! You had this pain for that long?”
She did not reply.
“How long have you been bleeding?”
“Everyday…for the last ten years.”
Dr. Kruger was stunned. I was stunned. Dr. Kruger looked at her charts. She has a hemoglobin count of 10; a person would have a normal hemoglobin count of 100.
“Hold your eyelids down,” Dr. Kruger asked.
It was pale white.
“Did you see that, Dale. A normal person would show red. She needs a blood transfusion right away.”
Emma suffered from an ovarian cyst that kept on growing for the last ten years. She looked like she was pregnant from the growing cyst. She was single and in her early thirties but she looked older than I was.
The next day, Emma had her blood transfusion and we found out that her cyst was non-cancerous. She was lucky.
She lives at least four hours away in another island so she was doubly lucky that she found out about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of free medical and surgical care. If she hadn’t, she would be suffering and bleeding everyday and perhaps risking her life. But Dr. Paul Kruger saved her life and many others like her – one patient at a time.
That weekend in February 2010, Emma was one of the hundreds of patients that poured into the gym in Puerto Princesa seeking urgent medical care. I always had access to proper health care so I just take it for granted. For millions of indigent Filipino patients like Emma, these surgical missions are sometimes their only chance to receive medical care and live.
“Surgical missions do not work,” Dr. Alvear, founder of the World Surgical Foundation and leader of the surgical mission in Palawan. “We need to think of long-term solutions and long-term health sustainability for the Philippines.”
Dr. Alvear and many dedicated surgeons and medical practitioners are thinking like him. Around January and February every year, hundreds of Filipino volunteer surgeons, doctors, nurses and medical practitioners descend upon the Philippines and conduct hundreds of medical and surgical missions in various islands throughout the country. I’ve identified at least 25 different medical and surgical missions in 16 islands.
I agree with Dr. Alvear that medical and surgical missions are important and they saved lives like Emma’s. But what happens after the surgical mission leaves? Do the residents’ health care needs end as well? I don’t think so.
“I wanted to help for the long-term. I’m even thinking of providing a no cost loan to the Calamba Provincial Hospital so they can purchase much needed medical equipment and train their local doctors to use them. Now that’s long term health care!” Dr. Gino Ang told me as I joined him in his medical and surgical mission in Calamba, Laguna.
Dr. Bernie Palomares, Dr. Manny Cacdac, Dr. Jimmy Yrastorza, Nurse Vid Figueras, Nurse Dian Marandola and many others went to the Philippines. They looked after the short-term medical needs of indigent patients, saving lives one patient at a time. At the same, these visionary medical practitioners are also thinking of long-term health solutions.
“My dream is that someday we would not need to have these surgical missions anymore,” Dr. Alvear said. Ah, what a dream! I want to share with his dream and make it a reality.
I wanted to salute these Filipino medical heroes as they save one patient at a time. I wanted to share with their dream of long-term health sustainability for the Philippines.