International Volunteer Mission Opens Eyes and Hearts of Broadlawns Medical Residents
Des Moines, July 23, 2008 – Whereas minimal wait time is the gold standard in every hospital and clinic waiting room in Iowa, Matthew Sampson, M.D. and Anthony Coppola, D.O. were moved by the length of the lines of people waiting for them as they arrived in the remote village of Guaimaca in Honduras.
Even without formal communications, word of mouth spread so fast that people were lined up and waiting for hours before the doctors got there. “They just wanted to see a doctor,” said Sampson, a resident physician at Broadlawns Medical Center Family Residency Program. “The kids were so excited even for our simplest gifts, like vitamins or a toothbrush.”
Sampson and Coppola, along with Broadlawns family medicine residents Brian Bluth, M.D. and Leah Britten, D.O., were part of a team of six doctors and residents from Broadlawns who traveled to the remote mountain region in interior Honduras to provide medical services to the poor. The team was led by Larry Severidt, M.D., director of medical education and the Family Medicine Residency Program at Broadlawns. This trip marked the tenth year that Severidt has personally made the voyage. The Broadlawns team joined other medical volunteers from the United States to form a group of 20 in total.
Even though they’ve been back just a matter of weeks, Severidt and several of the residents are already looking forward to planning next year’s trip. That’s because the benefits from the trip ran much deeper than providing health care services to the people living in this third-world country. The Broadlawns residents called it “a life-changing experience.”
Coppola, a second-year family medicine resident, returned with a new perspective of what is important in life. “We had no beepers, no cell phones, no access to the Internet,” he explained. “We had time to step back and reflect on the day as we watched the sun rise each morning and set each evening.”
But it wasn’t just about having time for meditation in a beautiful natural environment. They also gained an amazing medical experience. The first day there, they helped save the life of a man who had been shot multiple times and may not have survived the three to four-hour trip to the nearest hospital. With no ambulance service to these remote villages, transportation is not always readily available. Common procedures by our standards present difficulties when health care professionals and medical resources are scarce. For example, the visiting residents successfully set the broken arm of a young boy. While this may have been a routine procedure in the U.S., it presented more of a challenge in rural Central America. Scott Barron, M.D., pediatric section chief at Broadlawns, oversaw this procedure. Barron provided care to many other sick and orphaned children during the trip.
“We also realized that many things just aren’t fixable in any permanent fashion under these conditions,” added Coppola. “Yet the face of someone who cares and a sincere act of kindness can make a difference in a person’s life.”
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
Thanks to generous donations from area churches and several individuals, the team took along 20 cases of medicines, each weighing 49 pounds. Most were over-the-counter medicines, such as vitamins and prenatal pills, simple pain medicines and toothbrushes. Hy-Vee donated several cases of prescription medicines. These were pre-packaged in small plastic bags so they could be left with personnel in the various clinics that were visited.
“The residents pay their own way and take personal vacation time to participate in this experience,” said Severidt. “And the interest is great. We have to limit the number we can take each year, but I encourage everyone to try to work this into their residency experience.” Severidt further explained that this is a good match for the residency programs at Broadlawns, where the medical center’s mission is to serve people who really need health care services, regardless of their ability to pay.
“It’s such an incredible experience for residents,” Sampson said. “We really had to think on our feet and be creative in basic procedures. We just didn’t have the resources that we have here at Broadlawns.”
REMOTE, ISOLATED AND WORTH THE EFFORT
The village of San Hosea is only 12 miles from the Hospital Bautista in Guaimaca. However, because of the mountainous terrain and the primitive roads, it is a three-and-a-half-hour trip in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
“After the 10-hour trek by plane, bus and Land Rover, we slept on a concrete floor the first night,” explained Sampson. “Sometimes we had no electricity. But the food was always pretty good. We lived on the staples of the area – rice, beans, tortillas and eggs.”
Sampson and Bluth have previously participated in similar service trips in Latin America, and both speak Spanish, which proved valuable in communicating with the local people. For Coppola and Britten this was a new adventure, and they are grateful for the opportunity to expand their understanding of global health issues.
“This really makes you step out of your comfort zone,” added Coppola. “But sometimes that’s where the greatest gifts can be found. We can learn much from the people of Honduras. They don’t have a lot, but they cherish the simple things in life, like faith and family.”
ABOUT BROADLAWNS MEDICAL CENTER
Over the years, Broadlawns has adapted to the changing demands of public health care, yet remained true to its mission of offering quality health services to all Polk County residents and training tomorrow’s health care professionals.
Today, Broadlawns Medical Center is composed of:
- An acute care community hospital serving medical, surgical, mental health and primary care needs
- A 60-member physician practice overseeing numerous specialty clinics and outpatient services including and advanced foot and ankle and amputation prevention, dental, family health, mental health, pain management and pediatrics.
- A family medicine residency program that graduates physician leaders who today serve throughout Iowa and across the United States.
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