“It means making room for more service in my life; making room in my house by getting rid of the things I don’t need; and making room emotionally to care for other people,” said Chandler, a pharmacist and the pharmacy clinical coordinator at Mercy Hospital Ada.
In May, she and a group of 52 people made room in their busy schedules to travel to León, Nicaragua, to provide free medical care to more than 900 patients in just three and a half days as part of a health care mission trip with Trinity Baptist Church in Ada. The trip was in partnership with an international organization called Voice of Hope.
“The experience broadened my perspective, my sense of gratitude and allowed me to reduce my own self-centeredness,” said Chandler, who went on the trip with her adult son and daughter. “We helped almost 1,000 people get the medicines they needed in Nicaragua, but the real benefit was me getting to do it.”
Chandler was not the only one on the trip who got more out of the experience than they gave.
“As a church, it’s a way for us to go and serve other people and to share the gospel with them,” said Rusty Fuller, lead pastor at Trinity Baptist Church. “It’s about meeting their physical and spiritual needs. For me personally, we were able to serve as the hands and feet of Christ and for that one week could make a difference in someone’s life.”
León is the second largest city in Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Many of the homes in the area do not have a frame to the house or a door, which means wild animals and insects can enter the house at any time. They also do not have the comforts many Americans come to expect, like air conditioning or even a stove. Instead, they do their cooking inside their homes over a wood fire, which doctors believe may cause the high incidence of respiratory issues.
Contaminated water is also one of the main causes of illness in the country. Most of the people treated during the mission trip had parasites from the water, and many suffered from urinary tract infections due to dehydration.
“I was expecting third world, and that’s what I saw,” said Chandler. “It was tropical; it was hot; but it was also rural and rustic. People have next to nothing and they are happy.”
A Different Kind of Health Care
Every day, two teams set up medical clinics at different partner churches around León. Each team featured doctors, a dentist, an optometrist, a pharmacist, nurses, translators and other support personnel. Many of the patients may have never seen a doctor before and may never see a doctor again, said Fuller.
The physicians and providers on hand during the clinics included: Bryan Bratton, DDS; Courtney Bratton, OD; Laura Brewer-James, APRN; Lena Craig, DDS; Steve Fillmore, MD, RPh; Tré Landrum, DO; Stacy Presley, OD; and Hal Williams, DO.
Each patient received parasite medication, a 30-day supply of vitamins, a hygiene kit and any prescription medication they needed. The hygiene kits included a washcloth, shampoo, lotion, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Landrum, an ear, nose and throat physician in Ada, provided general medical care during the trip.
“I had no clue what to expect,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a lot different than what I do every day. What was surprising was the level of parasitic-type infections and urinary tract infections from bad water or lack thereof.”
In addition to parasites and urinary tract infections, he saw a lot of yeast infections due to the humidity, and children who were not growing normally.
There were also many instances when the physicians and other providers could only offer a temporary solution to a more chronic problem for patients, which was a hard pill to swallow.
One young girl, for example, had a chronic bladder infection that could not be remedied permanently without surgery, which was unavailable to her in Nicaragua. Landrum said he could treat the bladder infection with medication, but it would likely return after a few weeks or months.
“They don’t have access to that kind of stuff there and that was really heartbreaking,” he said.
Chandler wrestled with the same issues realizing that the one-month supply of medication she could provide was only a temporary fix, especially for chronic conditions.
In some cases, however, they could make a more permanent impact on patients’ lives.
One 12-year-old girl, for example, had a boil inside her eyelid that had been there for more than a year. Presley, an optometrist in Ada, was able to remove it in the clinic, allowing the young girl to no longer feel pain when blinking.
Through osteopathic manipulation, which is hands-on therapy similar to what a chiropractor does, Landrum provided more permanent treatment to alleviate pain for many patients.
He helped a woman who carried five-pound buckets of water and firewood on her left shoulder. He was able to get her shoulder feeling better and teach her to rotate sides when carrying water and firewood.
“She had a definite problem that we were able to fix,” said Landrum. “We will make a true lasting difference in her health.”
The team also provided hundreds of donated prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses to patients during the trip, which will help improve their vision long-term and protect their eyes.
Since water quality is one of the main causes of many health conditions in the area, Dr. Charlie Biles, a biology professor, and Dr. Patrick Bohan, an environmental health science professor, from East Central University in Ada also made the 2,600-mile trek to León to investigate the water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
By working on the WASH project, which is a long-term project, “we’re not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we’re trying to help solve it,” said Whitley Tracy, associate youth minister/girls’ ministry at Trinity Baptist Church.
In addition to the WASH project, Landrum hopes to one day teach the local doctors and medical students how to better treat the health care needs of the community.
Landrum’s wife, Ruth, also went on the trip. She grew up in Peru and is the daughter of missionaries from the United States. She served as her husband’s translator during the clinics.
“You don’t have to be a physician or speak two languages to be a huge help,” she said. “It takes a lot of different skills and abilities to make this happen. When you go, you may think you are going to serve, which you are, but it never fails that the experience and the people are always a bigger blessing to you than you can probably ever be to them.”
In addition to physicians, providers and other support personnel, several youth and college students also went on the trip to work with the kids in the area and help serve food at the feeding centers.
For Chandler, she’s glad she made room in her busy life for the mission trip to Nicaragua. She plans to go back and serve next year.
“My one impression as I went through the week is that people are very important down there,” she said. “They are not distracted with their cell phone or getting places. I need to be mindful to have people be more important than my tasks or my technology.”
How You Can Help
If you are interested in volunteering to go on next year’s mission trip to Nicaragua or if you would like to donate items for the trip, contact Rusty Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org or Whitley Tracy at email@example.com or either by phone at 580-332-6317. This was the group’s second trip and they hope to bring at least 72 people along next year.
(Photo: Dr. Bryan Bratton, a dentist in Ada, (pictured center in gray shirt) extracts the tooth of a patient in León, Nicaragua, during a health care mission trip in May. Mario, a local dentist (left), and Meaghan Snow,an employee of Voice of Hope (right) assist Bratton during the procedure.)