JULY 3 - JULY 9, 2016 MISSION TRIP TO RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA
29th Medical / Dental / Eye Mission Trip to South America led by Rev. Stevens
PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS article, August 14, 2016
Arriving in Riobamba, four hours south of Quito, the air was clear, though notably thinner. We were now at 9,000 ft altitude, huffing and puffing a bit as we climbed the stairs to our rooms at "Hotel Hotel," so named because the front of the building has a large identifying sign … saying only … "HOTEL."
The beds in the rooms had heavy woolen covers to defend from the nighttime chill of the Andes. Each room had its own bathroom, with shower, which on occasion dispensed fleeting hot water.
Dr. Bacilio, our Quechuan Indian physician host, born in an Andean Mountain mud hut and now doing cataract surgery, greeted us with another adventure.
We staked out our makeshift clinic in an abandoned "hospital" in the village of Colta, altitude 11,000 ft. Built in the 1970s, the one-story, ten-room building had a floor plan of a medical facility. However, what was left were barren rooms and only two working ceiling light fixtures – for a solitary light bulb.
Fifty patients were already sitting, huddled outside, when we arrived that Monday morning. Their colorful red, purple and green ponchos caught our eyes, but also alerted us that it would be a long day.
For four days we saw patients of all ages.
Our six thousand-capsule-bottles of Ibuprofen disappeared, along with the six thousand-capsule-bottles of Tylenol. Our gastritis medicines were also exhausted by day four.
We toted along with us a portable EKG machine and devices to check hemoglobin, glucose, cholesterol and urine. These enabled us to pinpoint some diagnoses. Angina and heart abnormalities were documented with a cardiogram. Diabetes, anemia and urinary tract infections all diagnosed with our portable lab equipment.
Our team worked together harmoniously. Donna and Dan Ortiz manned the pharmacy, assisted by 16 year-old Lilly Carden, who also performed EKGs and lab tests under the supervision of her father, internist and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Sandy Carden. He was the anchor of our medical team, overseeing the lab and the go-to doctor for me, a dermatologist doing general medicine.
Joe Ortiz was our vital signs stalwart. Helen Ortiz interviewed more than 50 patients for a University of Miami nutritional health research project and assisted with lab testings.
Mary Overall Rich and her pastor husband, Joe, ministered to and prayed with the indigenous Quechuan Indians and at three evening youth church services.
Some patients came with very serious conditions, untreated up to that point: tuberculosis, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, melanoma, ascites, lupus, hypertension, gall stones and one patient with acute appendicitis.
Once again I was struck by the marked difference of medicine in America and medicine in remote villages of the Andes. The woman with tuberculosis, when asked how long she had been coughing up blood, answered, "eight years." This was the first time she had been able to see a doctor about her debilitating condition and she had walked for two hours to our clinic.
We left gratified by being able to help many: 700 medical patients, 400 eye exams and 250 dental patients, made possible by portable dental equipment that we brought with us from the U.S.
Our medical team will return in July 2017 and a new vision was birthed on this trip - a much needed hospital - built, owned and run by Missions of Mercy. That is our next goal.
PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS article, June 19, 2016
JUNE 28 - JULY 4, 2015 MISSION TRIP TO RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA
28th Medical / Dental / Eye Mission Trip to South America led by Rev. Stevens
PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS article, July 19, 2015
Twenty-eight mission trips since 1988. And this latest one, June 28-July 4, to Echeandia, Ecuador, was the most challenging, taxing and yet rewarding of all of them.
We left the Paramount parking lot together at 8 am the morning of Sunday, June 28, departing from the Miami airport, changing planes in Panama, flying into Quito, Ecuador, and then driving 4 hours to Riobamba. Our arrival time in Riobamba was 11 pm and the altitude 9,035 feet. Coming from sea level, we all felt it. It is the community of Riobamba where my Quechuan Indian physician friend, Dr. Bacilio Malan, lives and where we built a referral medical clinic.
But that is not where we were destined to work on this mission. The needs were greater elsewhere … and more remote.
The next morning after breakfast we ascended further up the Andes on winding narrow roads carved in the mountains, some recently impassable due to rock and mud slides. At one point our bus slowed almost to a stop, inching forward to squeeze through a narrow opening where a boulder the size of the width of our bus remained from the recent rock slide. Only a foot of passage on either side existed for passage of our bus, but we made it through.
The climb was notably slow, with one of our team members calculating that the 4 hour ascent from Riobamba had transpired at an average of 16 mph. Upon reaching 14,500 feet altitude, we found ourselves above the clouds, above the tree line, peering at breathless panoramic views of the majestic Andes, at times surrounded by hundreds of golden vicuñas (the smallest of the 6 species of camel and thought to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca). Then came the harrowing descent, from 14,500 feet to 1,500 feet, in 1 ½ hours. With the brakes squealing to slow us around the hairpin turns, we held our breath mesmerized by the terraced cultivated hillsides and the deep valleys below.
Finally we arrived in Echeandia, a community far from any tourist attraction and occupied by hundreds of people with medical and dental needs, where we would spend the next 3 days.
Our “clinic” was an abandoned building, with a faded “Hotel” sign in front, that consisting of an empty room approximately 30 by 50 feet, with no windows that opened. The first objection on any mission trip is to turn the vacant hotel, or sometimes a church or a school room into a medical and dental clinic.
In this instance it required dividing the 30' by 50' emptiness into roughly 4 quadrants: medical area back right, ophthalmology back left, dental front right and pharmacy front left. Once accomplished, through a total team effort, we were ready to begin seeing patients the next morning. When we arrived shortly before 9:00 am, over 100 patients were already patiently waiting outside.
The medical clinic team consisted of Dr. Sandy Carden, two pre-med students who became Physician Assistants (Helen Ortiz and Julie Calder) and me.
The Dental team included 4 dentists: Dr. Pearl Burns, Dr. Dale Smith, Dr. Luis Sarria, Dr. Karl Foose, dental assistant Zineda Gomez and dental hygienist Osire Agramonte, both from Dr. Sarria’s office.
The Opthalmology/Optometry clinic was manned by our Quechuan physician Dr. Bacilio Malan.
The Pharmacy staffed by Donna Mihura Ortiz, Lilly Carden, nurse Chris Crippen and former Director of Public Health at Cornell, Rosemary Clemens.
Dan Ortiz coordinated and organized it all, being the “go-to guy” for anything and everything, from finding exam tables, to erecting hanging barriers between the four clinic areas, to coordinating patient flow and control.
Over three days we saw between 750-800 patients in our three departments: medical, ophthalmological, dental. All in 85+ degree heat, 90 per cent humidity and no air conditioning. Our only defense was to drink and drink and drink bottled water, which we all did in abundance. The 3 days could easily have competed with any exclusive weight loss spa, with a guaranteed 5-10 pound daily weight loss, albeit from mostly water evaporation through plain old sweat.
Sandy Carden, Internist, Infectious Disease Specialist, Travel Medicine Physician, tirelessly saw patient after patient, while overseeing two pre-med physician assistants, and me, a retired dermatologist trying to retrieve basic medical school teachings about general medicine problems. I found myself repeatedly presenting case after case to Dr. Carden for his expertise. We both immensely enjoyed the challenge and the camaraderie of seeing approximately 500 patients over the three days, in which in the absence of modern medical technology the two foundational basics of medicine were our primary clinical weapons: the history and the physical exam.
Dr. Carden and his 15 year old daughter, Lilly, were on their third consecutive mission trip. Consistently willing, eager for new challenges and fluent in Spanish, Lilly has expanded her roles in the clinic to include triage interviewer, pharmacist interpreter and cardiographic technician, thanks to an EKG machine donated at her father’s behest by the Henry Schein Company and some expedited training before leaving the U.S. The long clinic hours and prodigious workload never seem to slow her down or generate a complaint. Refreshing indeed in an American teenager. Dr. Carden, relegated to the back of the room, far from the rare occasional wisp of fresh air at the front entrance, was relentless in his effortless, easygoing manner.
At the end of the first day after seeing 150 patients, envisioning only an increase for days 2 & 3 (which did occur), he recommended that we start seeing patients an hour earlier. This idea was immediately endorsed and applauded by the whole team. And we started days 2 & 3 at 8 am, working until after 6:30 pm when with little artificial illumination in the clinic room there wasn’t enough light to see.
Dr. Bacilio assessed eye needs, diagnosing cataracts, glaucoma, conjuctivitis, pterygiums, in addition to dispensing glasses for distance and for reading. And always ready to assist in arranging referrals for further testing of the medical patients in Riobamba.
Our Dental team did extractions, fillings and cleanings … non stop for three days. It is hard work, pulling teeth, but with local anesthesia and lots of experience, countless painful decayed teeth were extracted. Thanks in part to generous pharmaceutical donations from the Henry Schein Foundation, the pharmacy inventory was larger (with the patient load and demand higher) than in any of our previous clinics.
Despite the challenges posed by tight quarters and high patient volume, the smooth pharmacy operation was creatively organized and efficiently managed by Donna Mihura, Chris Crippen and Rosemary Clemens. Julie and Helen, pre med students at the start, rapidly acquired advanced skills in facilitating evaluation of common clinical problems and added immeasurably to the efficiency and success of the General Medical Clinic.
What medical conditions did we see? Many that were common and a few that were rare indeed. There always is the ubiquitous osteoarthritis. Everyone seems to hurt, everwhere. Neck, back, shoulder, hands, hips, knees. Why? The result of years of manual labor, every day in the fields. There were no white collar jobs in this area. It was work outside and labor outside. Day after day takes its toll on the human body.
Other common conditions were gastritis (resulting from less than ideal diets), urinary tract infections, intestinal parasites, bronchitis, hypertension, traumatic wounds. Less common: amenorrhea, Parkinson’s, gall stones, plantar fasciitis, diverticulitis, cardiac arrhythmias, sciatica, scabies, impetigo, prostatitis and huge superficial leg vein varicosities. Two rare conditions that we saw were a case of cutaneous tuberculosis of 30 years duration and a case of mosquito bite caused Dengue Fever of 3 weeks duration. Both were manageable.
Unlike many previous trips to remote mountain villages, many of these patients had seen “doctors” at a public health service in the area, but were either misdiagnosed, mistreated, or unable to afford medicines prescribed for them. This made our evaluations more demanding and taxed our medical history and physical examination skills, with only a blood pressure cuff, thermometer, otoscope, urine dipstick, EKG machine, and pulsometer at our disposal. But Dr. Carden and I both loved the challenge and have already met to plan next years trip.
In addition to the 1000 toothbrushes and 800 pairs of glasses donated to our efforts, one of our team members brought 200 Bibles, and although this village had very few Christians and only 2 tiny, tiny churches, when offered the patients desperately wanted these Bibles and by the 2nd day all had been given away.
As some of the patients had conditions in which our skills and medicines were limited, especially epilepsy or Parkinson’s, I would offer a prayer with the patient, and it was always gladly welcomed. This occurred at least 30 times over the 3 days.
Over the three days, we would literally drip with rivulets of sweat as the lines of patients seemed never to end, and the sweltering heat never abated. But uncomfortable as I was, I only could think of the patients who stood outside in the direct sun, some for hours on end, waiting and hoping for a chance to see the American doctors and dentists. Our inconvenient few days was nothing compared to a lifetime of inconvenience faced by our patients living in Echeandia.
There are two dimensions of a mission trip: the medical and dental work, and the dynamics of 20 people traveling together and working together for a week, most not knowing each other beforehand. It was a joy for me to see our team working as a cohesive unit bonded by our missionary mandate. Everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, and at the end we all felt spiritually uplifted.
The talk of returning next year began immediately. It was not America … in many, many ways. Comforts are not to be found. The travel is arduous. The food somewhat palatable, but not gourmet. Our Hotel La Zanda in Echeandia liveable but not by any means luxurious. The bathroom showers had a switch for hot water, which generally didn’t seem work, nor did the 5 inch diameter shower head dispense more than a slow drip of water. The niceties of America and the comforts of home were nowhere to be found. We were all thankful to live in the U.S., but also grateful for the opportunity to reach out to a sector where life is not so comfortable and to help some of our world’s less advantaged. We truly see doing this work as a privilege.
On my first full day back in Florida, driving by a McDonald's on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard I stopped for a fish sandwich and an iced tea. Sitting outside the entrance door was a disheveled man, who as I approached the door, politely asked for a dollar for something eat. My thoughts flashed back over the past week and without hesitation I gave him $5.
PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS article, April 11, 2016 by Lilly Carden, age 15.
A young girl and an elderly woman slowly make their way towards the pharmacy table where I am waiting for them. They are both wrapped in brightly colored cloths, a stark contrast to the grays and browns of the otherwise barren room.
The woman’s hands shake slightly as she hands me a white piece of paper that bears my father’s signature and indicates that she needs a bag of 30 ibuprofen tablets which I prepare and label for her. It is apparent that the woman does not speak Spanish, but her granddaughter translates my Spanish instructions into her native Quechuan, and the woman takes my hand and tells me something that I believe means thank you. The girl then leads her away, and ithey disappear into the mass of patients waiting for their prescriptions to be filled.
The first year I traveled to Riobamba, in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, I was 13 years old, younger than anyone else who had ever gone on the Missions of Mercy trip. I spoke fairly good Spanish, and I had a strong desire to prove myself to those who surrounded me.
I dove headfirst into medical mission work.
When we arrived at our first clinic location that year near a lake and a vegetable garden in a tiny hamlet high in the Ecuadorian Andes, we found ourselves confronted by a long line of waiting patients allowing us only a few minutes to organize and set up a functional medical facility in a simple one room schoolhouse containing only a few tables and chairs. I had no idea what I was to do or how to make myself useful. Almost immediately, I was put to work writing out basic prescription directions at the pharmacy and translating instructions for the patients and their families, but nothing more.
Looking back, I can understand why my unsure, uneasy, 13-year-old self was easy to doubt and difficult to trust with large responsibilities. I had never done anything like this mission trip before, and I didn’t know what I should do in the face of being surrounded so many people with years of experience in this type of work. However, by the end of the fourth clinic day, I had established myself as a reliable pharmacist and translator, and had developed friendships with many of the adults on the mission team.
My second year, Donna Ortiz, who had traveled as a pharmacist on many mission trips, became my partner in the pharmacy and brought with her a sense of organization and orderliness that we had severely lacked the year prior. She was kind and understanding in regard to my relative inexperience in the realm of organizing pharmaceutical supplies and filling prescriptions. Together, we made an efficient and methodical team.
Each tiny village we visited had unique characteristics but also common features. They were all closely knit small communities supported by subsistence agriculture in small mountainside plots at altitudes between 10,000 and 13,000 feet.
Housing consisted of one room cement block huts for each family. A centrally located hut usually served as the communal kitchen for the village where adults and children alike would gather for a once daily meal. The expressions of gratitude for our services were a touching and heart warming reward for our efforts and not infrequently included offers to share these daily meals with us. The menu varied from mysterious looking soup emerging from a large cauldron in a smoky hut with a fire on the floor to fire roasted guinea pigs on a stick (a local delicacy).
In our clinical work we encountered a wide variety of medical problems but interestingly malnutrition was rarely seen. Being on the trip for a second time was much easier than the first for several reasons: I was older and so inherently more trustworthy; the previous year’s challenges had prepared me to handle the unexpected bumps in the road that inevitably crop up in an undertaking such as this; and another year of schooling had armed me with better Spanish language skills, making me a more effective interpreter. I no longer felt as though I had to earn my place on the trip; I felt as though I was a real part of the team.
Last year was arguably the most physically and mentally taxing mission of all. Instead of traveling from village to village every day with Riobamba as our base, we stayed in one location for 3 days. A small town in a more temperate region of Ecuador, Echeandia lacks the icy, 12,000 ft, top-of-the-mountain air so prevalent in the villages we had visited previously. In fact, it was viciously hot, and the crowded room with no functional windows that served as our clinic only exacerbated the intensity of that heat. Despite this, we saw more patients than we had in previous years, working long hours into the night.
I also felt more useful on my third trip as I had been trained on an ECG machine so that I could perform electrocardiograms on patients. In addition, my improved language skills allowed me to assist in patient triage when help was needed there.
An added reward of this single clinic location was that we were able to see some of our earlier patients a few days later in follow-up. Communications were improved as the majority of patients in this region spoke Spanish as opposed Quechuan and we were also able to work longer clinic hours as we didn’t have to worry about setting up in the mornings and packing up and driving back to Riobamba at night.
This last trip allowed me to grow not only in my Spanish language proficiency, but also in my ability to work in a multitasking environment for an extended period of time under less-than-optimal conditions.
My experience with Missions of Mercy has allowed me to grow as a person and make connections that I would not otherwise have had. Providing care to those who need it most is a personally rewarding privilege, and I am very grateful for it. It has been an incredible opportunity for me these past 3 years, and I’m looking forward to our next trip from July 2-9 this summer.
JUNE 29 - July 5, 2014 MISSION TRIP TO RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA
27th Medical / Dental / Eye Mission Trip to South America led by Rev. Stevens
[ Text below submitted for publication to Palm Beach Daily News, July 30, 2014 ]
"We found ourselves at 12,783 feet altitude in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, South America, finally arriving at our destination. In the distance, we saw a remote village that was cold, windy, and barren of anything resembling western civilization. It is there that the Quechuan Indians, who doggedly traverse the muddy hillsides, are waiting to hopefully be given some minimal medical and dental care. An adventure was about to unfold that was to challenge many of our team’s accustomed sea side and sea level ease of living and breathing.
It was my 27th mission trip, this time with a team of 13 volunteers. Again, our sole purpose was to make a small dent in the needs of impoverished mountaintop dwellers, categorized in our own culture by the term “disenfranchised.”
We went to them, because they couldn’t come to us. We brought our medical and dental supplies because they cannot go to a doctor or a dentist’s office for a routine “followup”visit. There are no followup visits because there are no first visits.
Yes, much of the world’s people still live remote and distant. They are without a primary care physician, without specialists, without MRIs, without dental Xrays, without the ability to call up their dentist, as I did just before leaving on this trip, to come in on an emergent basis because a portion of one of my lower molar teeth broke off biting into a delicious Publix cherry with a pit.
It was cold that day at 12,783 feet. Our clinic home base in Riobamba was at 9,035 feet. But this day was destined for a higher altitude. The wind was strong. There were no barriers to buffer either the cold or the wind, except for the sheepskin chaps the men wore and the multiple layers of heavy woolen clothing the ladies wore.
Our team arrived to turn a tiny church into a medical clinic, an ophthalmologic exam clinic, a dental clinic and a pharmacy. That was our routine, three days in a row – arrival somewhere high up in the majestic Andes, with no scouts sent ahead to report what lay ahead upon our arrival, and setting up our semblance of a MASH unit for the day.
The teamwork was smooth. The camaraderie was remarkable. The selfless attitudes permeated everyone as we knew we had to transform an empty room into a medical/dental/opthalmologic complex to meet the needs of the lines of people who were alerted of our coming and were there already and on their way.
Dr. Sandy Carden led our medical team, for the second consecutive year, accompanied by his 14 year old daughter Lilly, who again organized and under our supervision dispatched medicines in our pharmacy along with Donna Mihura, a veteran of 10 overseas medical mission trips.
It seemed that everyone who came to our medical clinic had both extensive whole body osteoarthritis and stomach gastritis, the results of years of hard manual labor in the fields and a diet of corn, potatoes, beans that necessitated more than a touch of “Ahi” – the combination of spices and onions that made these starchy foods palatable.
My role was triaging for Dr. Carden, as we resorted to our fundamental medical school medical techniques of history and physical examination. There were no blood tests, no XRays, no Scans, no Digital devices. We attempted to elicit some medical history from many who didn’t even speak Spanish, but Quechuan, a language of these people descended from the Incas, enslaved by the Spanish, and still occupants of the hillsides of the Andes throughout much of South America.
The Quechuans are sweet, patient, kind people. And ever so colorful in their woolen dress with bright reds, greens, blues, purples adorning their handmade clothing, adding an artist’s touch to the often barren hillsides where sheep, cows, pigs, mules and roosters abound.
We had an incredible dental team of five Florida dentists from Jupiter to Miami Beach, all with us for the first time. Endless lines of people with various degrees of dental cavities awaited them. How they managed to see everyone and help everyone is a tribute to their tireless efforts. It was nothing less than heroic. One of our dentist volunteers knew a dentist in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, who ahead of time provided two pieces portable equipment that enabled our team to do fillings in addition to extractions.
How gratifying it was to be able to save the front teeth of 10 year olds that were already partially eaten away with cavities. This was just one of the heartwarming things these dentists were able to accomplish day after day. Bent over for hours, tugging at decayed molars, they were almost like front line warriors, offering their services to patients lying in makeshift lawn chairs we found at a hardware store in Riobamba.
Our work offered three days of clinics, aiding between 500-600 medical and dental and eye patients, fitting countless eyeglasses in remote, hard to reach villages with names never found on travel brochures: Santa Lucia, Pueblo Viejo and Colta Monjas. Even without technology, we were able to diagnose cholelithiasis (gall stones), epilepsy, sciatica, hypertension, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, intestinal parasitosis, psoriasis, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, angina, diverticulitis, chostochronditis, post partum endometriosis, amebiasis and impetigo.
Followup is possible through my Quechuan Indian physician friend, Dr. Bacilio Malan, with whom I’ve worked together now for over 20 years. He is the fourth Quechuan ever to become a physician in the history of the country of Ecuador, born in a mud hut and devoted to helping his people to a better life.
Our return to the United States brought a sea of contrasts: from the rugged majestic terraced mountainous terrain, where fields of quinoa are ubiquitous but too expensive for the locals to purchase, where roads are dusty, homes are unfinished and surrounding walls are covered with broken glass in an attempt to discourage intruders, and life is a daily struggle for basic provisions … to the niceties of America … with air conditioning, paved roads, running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, access for most to sophisticated medical and dental care with cutting edge technology, social security, clean clothing ever day, and running drinkable water.
To those of us who are blessed to be born in the United States and privileged to enjoy the niceties of life here, there is a huge world out there that doesn’t share these same privileges.
Our goal through Missions of Mercy is to help in some small way with hands on relief. Return we must, with hopefully more volunteers to bring their skills to assist, not only the immediate needs but also through preventative education programs for both medical and dental and eye care.
Front Row: Irit Prize, Dr. Bacilio Malan, Juana Malan, Donna Mihura
Back Row: Dr. Luis Sarria, Dr. Arnold Rothman, Dr. Bruce Holz, Dr. Dale Smith, Dr. Eric Lowenhaupt, Rev. Tony Guadagnino, Rev. Dwight Stevens, Joe Ortiz, Dan Ortiz, Dr. Sandy Carden, Lilly Carden
PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS article, June 22, 2014
Please join us:
We Need Doctors / Nurses / Dentists / Lay People
We Need Medicines
We Need Medical Equipment
We Need Finances
We Need Prayer
JUNE 30 - July 6, 2013 MISSION TRIP TO RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA
JUNE 17 - 23, 2012 MISSION TRIP TO RIOBAMBA, ECUADOR, SOUTH AMERICA
Our Medical Mission Team, with Mount Chimborazo in the background (20,702 ft at its peak).
The following is a first hand story of the trip, published in the Palm Beach Daily News on August 14, 2012.
ECUADOR TRIP BRINGS MANY MIRACLES
"How does one recount a week-long adventure to remote Andes Mountain villages that are the homes of Quechuan Indians in Ecuador, South America?
The air is thin. The landscapes are beyond description in their majesty. And the clinic days are seemingly endless as lines of villagers awaiting to be seen as patients never seem to shorten.
Five of us banded together for this outreach, dedicated to bringing eye care. A medical school colleague of mine who practices ophthalmology in Houston was the leader of our medical eye team, which consisted of a drug and alcohol recovery specialist, a sightseeing tour owner, a Hospice nurse and a retired dermatologist. If you are laughing, so were we!
My medical school colleague, Dr. William Quayle, came for the second time, a world away from his undergraduate days at Yale in New Haven, Connecticutt and his upbringing in Shaker Heights in Cleveland. He offered his skills at fitting eyeglasses for villagers who cannot even read American eye charts and some who are literally blinded in their 30s and 40s by cataracts.
Together with my Ecuadorian Quechuan medical doctor friend, Dr. Bacilio Malan, who runs our medical clinic full time in Riobamba, four hours south of the capital city of Quito, we offered what we could.
With eyeglasses donated to us by Lions Clubs of Florida, we measured hundreds of patients for both distant and near vision, and examined their eyes for cataracts, glaucoma, pterygiums and conjunctivitis.
To my astonishment, when we offer Bibles to those who come to our church services, the villagers grasp them thankfully, but then tell us they cannot read them because they don’t have the reading glasses that we so casually take for granted here in the United States.
I cannot adequately describe the exuberant expressions on God-believing Quechuans who for the first time can read their Quechuan language Bibles because we gave them a pair of +1.75 reading glasses, which abound in our Dollar Stores here.
Day 3 of our clinic was a modern day reenactment of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes of Mark Chapter 6. We had dispensed the majority of our eyeglasses the two previous clinic days and faced the certainty of a huge shortage on day three at the last mountain clinic. The expectant patients would be there, but our inventory of glasses had dwindled.
My thoughts turned to that miraculous event when the disciples despaired of there being no food for the masses on the hillside. I led our group in a prayer that morning and we saw a miracle take place that same day. At the end of the clinic everyone received the pair of glasses that they needed. Not one patient left disappointed or was turned away. And we had glasses left. Glory to God!
But the week still had one more unfulfilled mission. My Houston eye doctor friend had come all the way from Houston to perform cataract surgery, as he had done on his first trip with us in 2011. Doesn’t seem too difficult, unless one understands the Quechuan culture.
Many of these Indians had rarely if ever seen a white man from North America. And to allow a white man to cut into their eyes with a knife required a family pow wow to discuss this unheard of procedure.
Even though the patient might not be able to see their own fingers two feet in front of their eyes, that is not enough to readily accept a cataract operation they knew absolutely nothing about.
There were perhaps 20 candidates for a cataract operation in the three clinic days. But in each instance the patient had to meet with their entire family to discuss our offer of a free cataract operation, complete with lens implant. None in the family had previous experience with something like this. None in the family could talk to one of their friends or neighbors who had this procedure. No one had a computer to Google “cataract operation.”
This is a world away from our everyday understanding of modern medicine.
It was late on Thursday, the last clinic day, and not one of the 20 candidates had consented to the operation. Even a few of our team members had doubts that any would accept our offer of sight to the blind through modern medicine.
That evening at dinner I found myself gently saying to them, “O Ye of Little Faith.”
My prayer to God was simple: God, you didn’t bring my Houston eye doctor friend all the way here to not have at least one patient to operate on.
Our Bible says it doesn’t take much faith, just faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest seed there is, almost pinhead size.
As you might imagine, I would not be writing this story if that prayer had not been answered. At 8 am on Friday morning there sat outside our clinic building in Riobamba, where we are equipped to do cataract operations, a 35 year old woman with her father. She had bilateral cataracts and had to be walked around by someone because she was virtually blind.
The operation took place, albeit not with the most modern equipment we routinely have here in the United States. But, the outcome was predictable to those with a mustard seed of faith. Today she can see again.
One more story, if I may. On day 2 we found ourselves in a dusty school we transformed into our clinic for the day. In one corner was a small red accordion, with a few bass buttons missing and some keys stuck together. But it played.
The patients come early to our clinics, some waiting all day to be seen, and they never complain. Ponder that same scenario here in America!
As the day slowly crept into the afternoon I thought maybe I can bring a few smiles to their faces with a few tunes. I began playing “Hava Nagila” and “If I Were A Rich Man” to their great delight. They responded by starting to sing in their own native language. Soon I thought I recognized a familiar melody. To my astonishment, they were singing “How Great Thou Art” in their native Quechuan language. So, together I played and we sang “How Great Thou Art” in English, Spanish and Quechuan.
Now that’s something to write home about!
To summarize, how can one recount a week so vastly removed from life in Palm Beach? In many ways it is not possible, except to say that God is also present in the remote mountain villages of Ecuador, South America, just like He is present here in Palm Beach."
Thank you for reading.
Rev. Dwight Stevens
President, Misssions of Mercy, Inc.
BELOW is the LINK to this article, published in the Palm Beach Daily News on August 14, 2012
entitled "Ecuador Trip Brings Many Miracles."
This is a link to a March 20, 2011 Palm Beach Daily News article on our trip to South America February 20-26, 2011:
February 20-26, 2011 to Riobamba, Ecuador, South America
Purpose of the Trip: To help Ecuadorian physician Dr. Bacilio Malan in bringing medical and dental attention, drug and alcohol recovery programs, and ministry teams to Riobamba and surrounding Andes Mountain villages. Below is a first-person narrative of this trip requested by The Palm Beach Daily News.
"As we descended to land, day after day of heavy rain and fog closed the airport in Quito, Ecuador, our destination for our medical mission team. Never in my previous 25 overseas mission trips had this happened. Narrow mountain bridges, buses broken down at night on curving pitch black roads, iguana served for lunch, guinea pig for dinner, taking off in an airplane with ropes for seat belts, but never hovering above an airport unable to land. That was the start of one of the most memorable mission trips ever for me.
In 1987 I naively said I will join a church mission team and hold a medical clinic while the others did construction projects. 400 people showed up for this clinic in Honduras. People who lived in cardboard boxes on a side of a river. People who were grateful even to be given a tiny bar of Holiday Inn soap. I was troubled when I returned to the Miami airport - to air conditioning, electricity, paved roads, let alone medical and dental care. It struck me that I could have been one of those people. What did I do to be born in the United States and given an opportunity to be educated? The biblical principle of 'To whom much is given much is required.' was indelibly imprinted upon me.
This time we went to help a Quechuan Indian doctor whom I met 22 years ago. The Quechuans are descendents of the Incas and 1/3 of the population of Ecuador. This man was the 4th Quechuan ever to become a physician. I said I will help you. And I've never stopped.
This doctor, who used to go on horseback to mountain villages, now oversees a medical clinic we helped build in a town called Riobamba. Accompanying me was Dr. William Quayle. Shaker Heights. Yale University. A medical school classmate of mine and a dedicated opthalmologist in Houston. Cataracts are a common problem in high altitudes and even 30 year olds cannot see because of bilateral cataracts. Right before my eyes, with Mary Weiss, Founding President of the Palm Beach Chapter of Cyster Fibrosis, interpreting, Bill removed these cataracts and put in donated lens implants that he brought along. Tirelessly, tediously and skillfully he worked into the night to enable "The Blind To See."
The last day of our 1 week trip was a 2 hour journey into the clouds of the Andes Mountains. Wild llamas, alpacas and vicunas raced across the road as we ascended to 12,000 feet to a remote village where no medical team had ever journeyed. No school. No church. We were met with a slaughered cow sprawled on the ground being hacked with axes and machetes into pieces for food.
We brought along eye charts to measure vision and discovered many couldn't even read numbers. But we managed to dispense countless eyeglasses donated by Lions Clubs here in Florida and in Houston.
Along with his drug and alcohol recovery skills, Phillip Causey became the pied piper of the Andes. Bringing soccer balls, frisbees, crayons, coloring books and M&Ms, he was surrounded by urchins who couldn't get enough of his love.
Who determines where we live and at what time in human history? Has to be God. And one day those of us given the priviledge of being born in the USA and educated might just have to give an account of what did we offer to the impoverished world outside of our borders. I am compelled to help.
Please visit our web site www.missionsofmercyfl.org or call me at 561.835.1915 if you also have that tug on your heart."
RECENT MISSION TRIP
August 22 - 28, 2010 to Riobamba, Ecuador, South America
This trip exceeded our expectations.
The West Palm Beach Lions Club donated 1,250 pairs of eyeglasses for us to take with us. We lost count of the patients we saw in three clinic days in the mountain villages.
The expression on the faces of the people said it all!
Smiles as big as the room ... as patient after patient was fitted with eyeglasses, most for the first time ever. After years and years of not being able to see clearly, or to read anything, a pair of glasses changed their lives in just a few short moments.
What a blessing to be part of this trip. And Dr. Bacilio's relentless servitude of his own people, along with two of his children who are also studying medicine.
We just have to go back again ... soon!!!
August 19, 2010 Palm Beach Daily News
RECENT MISSION TRIPS
March 21-27, 2010 to Riobamba Ecuador
The purpose of the trip was to assist Dr. Bacilio Malan, an Ecuadorian Quechuan physician
Dr. Stevens has worked with for over 20 years. Our team was involved in 3 projects:
1) Medical Clinics in Andes Mountain Villages, seeing 270 Quechuan Indian patients
2) Ministering in 2 local churches in Riobamba
3) Meeting with community leaders to start 12-step Alcohol and Drug Recovery Programs
TO JOIN US
Our Mission Teams are open to anyone who has in interest in going on a mission trip.
Please email us and we will send an team member application.to you.