Nuzvid, India, February 2005
Gifford Memorial Hospital
Third-year medical student
Loma Linda University School of Medicine
The twists and turns that brought me back to Nuzvid this year were amazing! Just five years ago, I was a student missionary at Gifford Memorial Hospital. I spent almost eight months there as an assistant to the missionary physicians. I assisted in surgery, helped in clinic, and went out to the villages with the physicians to offer free health screenings. It was an eye-opening experience in many regards, especially culturally and medically. The need I saw was so great that I determined then and there to return someday to the mission field to help in some capacity.
An opportunity to return to a mission hospital was made possible just a few short months ago. It worked out in an incredible way! I got in contact with Dr. D'Antonio the Director of Operation Good Samaritan, the international outreach program for plastic surgery at Loma Linda. I told her of my interest in participating on a plastic surgery medical mission trip. She said she was planning one for this March, to India. My interest was piqued when I heard they were going to India. Of all the places one could go in India, they were planning to go to Nuzvid, India, where I had spent time as a student missionary!
As you can imagine, I was quite excited at the possibility of returning to this mission hospital, this time with my wife, Karen. But there were still many hurdles ahead of us. Karen and I began to pray about this trip and the obstacles we faced. One of those obstacles was the timing of the trip. Third-year medical students have required rotations all year, so there is no unscheduled time we can take off to go on mission trips. As it turned out, Dr. D'Antonio was able to schedule the trip for the exact time I was going to be doing my plastic surgery rotation here at Loma Linda. My request to go on the outreach trip as part of my regularly scheduled plastic surgery rotation was approved! The other large obstacle holding us back was finances. How were we to pay for plane tickets to India? God soon answered our prayer in the form of several donors, two of whom gave $5,000 to Operation Good Samaritan and the School of Medicine! These donations not only covered my airfare, but also our ground travel and expenses in India. There were many other difficulties involved in the planning of this trip, but things continued to fall into place. Soon, the day arrived for us to leave for India.
Our team converged on Los Angeles International Airport with huge bags packed to overflowing. We were bringing surgical supplies as well as some of our own instruments. The hospital is really struggling to make ends meet, so we didn't want to exhaust their supplies during our stay. At last we got everything checked through to India, and settled in on our flight. After flying for 22 hours and sitting in several airports, we arrived in Chennai, India. Following another 24 hours of travel by taxi, train, and van, we arrived at Gifford Memorial Hospital. Within half an hour of setting our bags down we were rounding on the patients with the hospital's general surgeon, determining whom we could help, and planning when we would operate on them. We selected four patients for the first day, then headed for the operating theatre to see what we had to work with. Our anesthesiologist was surprised to see the equipment we had available to us. It looked old enough to be in a museum, but at least it worked.
The hospital looked almost the same as when I had been there before, but with much fewer patients. It has been struggling, and there were only a dozen or so patients in the whole hospital. I was saddened to see it so empty, but excited that we could bring more patients to the hospital with our team from Loma Linda. And that is exactly what happened. More than 40 patients showed up to see if we could help them. Unfortunately we didn't have the equipment and time to help them all, but we were able to operate on 20 patients during the week we were there.
Many of the patients we operated on were young women who had been burned. Most of them were not burned accidentally, but were burned by their husbands or fathers in what are called 'kitchen fires.' A few were burned when they tried to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire. They had burn contractures that limited their movement, so our main goal was to restore function. These patients were very poor, with a few walking quite a distance to the hospital just to see if we could help. Our team even brought money to pay for many of these cases, so that the hospital didn't lose money because of our work. It was especially rewarding to help these poor young women who were at the bottom of the caste system there in India. I think it helped show that the mission hospital is serious about helping those whom nobody else is willing to help, just as Christ did every day in His earthly ministry.
The patients and family members were very grateful for our team's efforts. Every time we walked through the halls they put their hands together and bowed as a way of showing their appreciation to us. Helping those who have no hope is one of the biggest reasons I love mission work. It felt so good to improve their quality of life with a relatively straight-forward operation. In addition to the burn cases, we also helped three patients with cleft lips. Seeing such a vast improvement in how they looked after surgery was so exciting! And, not only were we able to make a difference on our own, but we were also able to show the general surgeon some of the techniques we used for burn reconstruction. Now he will be able to continue to offer medical care for these patients who previously didn't have anyone to go to. However, many more complicated cases remain in the area. I'm sure that future trips to this hospital will find plenty more patients who need the expert care we have to offer.
Not only was this week filled with operating, but it was also filled with reunions. I saw many of the India colleagues I had worked with five years ago. My wife and I spent several evenings eating and visiting with my old friends. The Indian people are very hospitable and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Several of them asked if another team from Loma Linda would be returning to the hospital. They said that 20 years ago the hospital was full of patients, due to the work of American missionary doctors serving there at the hospital. They also mentioned that we had brought many patients to the hospital during our short stay, and hoped we would return again soon. Like myself, they hope that the hospital will again be a place with a reputation for excellent medical care. There is much needed to get the hospital back on its feet, but hopefully our trip will be a catalyst in getting that process started. Many thanks to all those who by their prayers and financial donations made this and other Operation Good Samaritan trips possible.