Medical Mission Group Visit

Posted by: wrguptill on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Norbert-surgery in Kamantian
This was truly amazing! Here he was, a short, muscular, healthy appearing Palawano man, lying on the wooden table in front of me, his face showing not even a trace of concern or apprehension and his friendly, intelligent eyes reflecting complete childlike trust, even though I had just slithered into his mountain village on a very slippery, steep and exhausting path a few minutes earlier, prior to which we had never met. My scrubs and hair were drenched from the constant rain, I had given up on my wet shoes and socks, was barefoot and had mud splattered on me in all kinds of places, certainly miles short of any kind of professional or trustworthy appearance.

He remained perfectly still and cooperated without showing any pain as I proceeded to prep his forehead and inject the local anesthetic around the fatty tumor which measured nearly three inches in greatest diameter and had been an unsightly bother to him for a couple of years. Rain was pelting the tin roof with such intensity and force that communication short of yelling was impossible in the nearly completed new medical clinic of Kamantian, a small hovel consisting of a few scattered huts, the George’s home, a school and a clinic with a couple of inpatient beds.

Frazzled but happy group

This surgery was the first official business conducted in the new building and I could not have wished for a better patient. We had nudged him as close to the window as possible to garner what little ambient light was available. As I applied the scalpel to his forehead and as the lipoma slowly yielded to the steady dissection he remained stoically calm and insisted repeatedly that he was suffering no pain.

The original plan for the day had called for us to drive the pickup truck to a staging area closer to the mountains, so Dwayne (the mission director and pilot) could ferry us and the needed supplies up to the mountain village with his two-seater helicopter. But then the booster fuel pump went out the day prior and he had not been able to fix the problem despite his best efforts. We had prayed for God’s intervention and guidance and had proceeded to the drop-off point in faith hoping for good news the whole way there, but by the time we arrived, the problem was still not fixed. So we proceeded to the trailhead in the hope to find a guide willing to lead Leon, Eric and I up the path to the mountain village, which with God’s help we accomplished.

Eric loved the wild ride

So, armed with just our cameras and a box of surgical supplies we took off on the infamous mountain path as the clouds started once more to release a constant shower of cooling rain. Our rested guides took off as if to the races and their aggressive tempo quickly had me and the other travelers very much out of breath, although I was the only one, who after about twenty minutes of this steep and slippery climb called for a more leisurely pace. My lungs and brain were screaming at me and my heart was beating at a faster pace than it had in years all the way up into my throat with waives of nausea grabbing at my insides, which really left me no other choice. I had spent so much of my energy in these first few minutes that I began to doubt the wisdom of our decision to hike in and wondered whether I had not totally miscalculated my physical fitness, since I was, even after we rested for a few minutes, still not able to regain any sort of equilibrium. I was toying with thoughts of lying down to die, waiting on the trail until they returned, or even return with the job left undone. But then I remembered the folks on the other side of the mountain and kept pushing on, listening for ‘phantom’ helicopters as we struggled on. Finally the path leveled somewhat, my body recovered slowly and we began the very difficult descent into the village only to be warmly welcome there, fed and ushered into the OR to get going on that we had come to do.

Andrey-pilot and cook! (with a little help from Michel)

We ate some great food at the George’s home (they have been ministering to these people for 14 years), took the tour of the school and clinic, but with the light fading quickly we were soon pressed into action. After we finished we asked our loving Lord once more to protect us and then directed our tired legs back to the muddy trail, which to my surprise was now easier (only by comparison) to negotiate, after the heavy downpour had washed away the slimiest, slipperiest layer of mud. Our thigh muscles were quivering and our knees shaking, but our hearts were filled with praise as we reached the trailhead in the dark with only minor scrapes and a few bruises.

Jim Hippler who had graciously accepted to be construction supervisor for a nearly two million dollar project at our University an hour outside of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, had gotten to know Wendy Harris (Guptill) on one of his multiple trips to the project and had established a link between our two ministries. We initially had sent a couple of suitcases of useful medications and then got ourselves invited to come see and help with the needs around Brooke’s Point on Palawan Island in the south-western parts of the Philippines. Five brave souls from various places in the US and one from Korea as well as a couple of dentists from the Philippines followed the call and after long flights across the pacific and a very short night in Manila, we boarded another plane to Puerto Princesa, where we squeeze-packed nearly 1,000 pounds of supplies and personal luggage as well as our tired bodies into a couple of pick-up trucks. After eating lunch at our local hospital, we traveled another 5 hours over poorly maintained roads to our final destination of Brooke’s Point, four of us in a shuttle, the rest in a pick-up truck, which had air-conditioning – thank-you! – but offered little protection against the mostly awful road.

Maris pulling teeth with a smile

Once in Brooke’s Point, we met the rest of the team: Wendy, Dwayne’s wife and co-leader of PAMAS (Philippine Adventist Medical Aviation Service), Michel a young passionate, multitalented Philippine lady, Sheryl and Eric, two local nursing students, and Andrei, a pilot from the Ukraine. We all quickly learned to like one another and were soon immersed in sorting all the supplies we brought, counting pills, making food and other preparations as well as in getting to know each other.

We had very busy clinics in Sabsaban, in Rizal, Tagbanua and Kamantian, attending to hundreds of patients, their medical, dental, spiritual and surgical needs. Those that logistics forced to stay ‘home’ helped with some of the many tasks needing attention at the building site of a new hangar to house one airplane and a helicopter as well as a couple missionary families. The Rizal clinic was a 4h drive away over challenging roads, especially for those packed with the supplies in the back of the pick-up. After seeing all those who wanted to be seen there, we ate a delicious, albeit late lunch while deluging rains and gusty winds mingled with lightening and claps of thunder hammered and buffeted our bamboo hut. Once the weather eased a bit we headed home and with God’s grace managed to squeeze out a few drops of joy and some good memories even while hanging out in the rather exposed back of the pick-up getting soaked yet again.

Dr. Mayor and Eric see patients in Cabar

On Tuesday, four of us, including the pilot were flown with the little chopper that sported a tray on its left side for either one small extra person or some materials, across the mountain range to Tagbanua, where we held clinic with one of the local missionaries, who had been laboring with this group of people alone (the other missionaries were depleted due to Malaria and hardships). The place was very picturesque but at least a good days walk from the nearest town and even flying there took about twenty minutes. It afforded the observer a magnificent view first of the vast coconut plantations with rice paddies mingled in between, then of jungle covered mountain peaks, interrupted only by steep ravines and deep valleys, gorges carved deep into the igneous rock, filled with white water and a few small hamlets of bamboo huts here and there, where the heartiest of mountain breed eked out a simple existence. After we finished a very busy clinic of patients with malaria, respiratory and other infections, with chronic wounds and burns, malnutrition and a variety of skin diseases, it was time to saddle up our ‘mad little hornet’ and head for home, only to find out that the fuel boost pump, pretty essential to starting the helicopter, had stopped working.

Dwayne and Wendy-flying to PFM Rizal project

Wendy asked us to pray over the matter, but encouraged us by reminding us of the fact that Dwayne was a very skilled mechanic and usually could fix pretty much anything. So while I prayed and meandered along the few paths, taking a couple more pictures and Dwayne tried his best, Wendy rather unperturbed found one of her flipcharts and started a health lecture in her nearly perfect Palawan mountain dialect. After about ½ hour Dwayne with an apologetic shrug and greasy hands confessed that the pump had resisted his skills and that he would have to try an alternate way to jumpstart the ‘beast’, which might or might not work. Although left unsaid, it was clear by implication that should the second fuel pump fail as well, we would end up parking the little craft rather awkwardly somewhere on the mountainside. So, he asked me to go first, allowing his wife and Eric a few more minutes to pray and think about it, plus a chance to survive, should this first attempt fail. Here I expected just a bit of remonstration from Wendy, but none was heard from this faithful servant of the Most High, unless asking for her cape which might possibly second for a blanket during a possible overnight stay qualifies for such. After a prayer and with some fancy finger work by Dwayne as well as some divine help, the engine coughed into life and without any further problems, we were all safely returned to the base that same day. Praise God!

Joanne-sponsored student with new toy

While there, we were able to leave thousands of dollars worth of medications and supplies with them as well as a nice bundle of cash for their ministry. In addition, we also put our resources together and will sponsor an additional five worthy students to attend Palawan Adventist Academy. We were able to do some minor surgeries and pull lots of decaying teeth with anesthesia, while making lots of new friends and encouraging our missionaries and believers at the front.

We thank you once more for your generous support in currencies of time, prayer and funds, for lending us your loved ones for a few days and we praise God for such loving and supportive folks as you, without which none of this would be possible. May God bless you abundantly.

In His Service


In Rizal project with Richard and Eric

I think this mission report by Norbert Schwer, (leader of the medical team that recently came to bless our ministry) sums up well the exciting and diverse experiences of the week. He is a talented photographer and humorous writer (I just discovered), has a huge heart for missions, and he knows how to pick a team! (Thank you each one of you!) A big thank you to the Stevensville SDA church in Michigan for their support in making this happen! We are still dumbfounded at the blessings they brought us.

Wendy and Dwayne

Whole group (at Tagbanua project)

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