I didn't plan to start doing annual medical mission trips, but in 2003, two 17-year-old Girl Scouts decided to do their Gold Award projects somewhere with great need. With the assistance of their leaders and our church (St John's Lutheran Church, Sweet Air, in Phoenix, Maryland), a team of 20 people went to the Dominican Republic to work with children. We played sports and games, taught basic first aid, added a second floor to a church building, and fostered relationships. As a family physician, I was struck by the immense medical needs of the community. I was unable to ignore the malnourishment and rampant fungal infections, evidence of the poor access to health care for many individuals living in the Dominican Republic.
The next year, I returned to the DR armed with suitcases containing basic medical supplies and medications to host our own medical clinic. We treated about 150 patients with the help of two nurses and several lay people. In the following years, the team increased in size and scope. Our most recent trip had 19 team members, including a family medicine resident, four physician assistant students, one medical student, a nursing student, and a nurse. We held 10 clinics and treated over 700 patients. We included a dental clinic for the first time, staffed by a dental hygienist and a Dominican dentist whose education had been funded by a former team member.
This year, we visited a new community that was particularly remote and poor. When we were finishing up our last clinic, a woman came in carrying a naked child with a high fever. He was suffering from a urinary tract infection. When I told her he needed antibiotics and a fever reducer, she said, “I know, but I have no money.” “Don't worry,” I replied. “We have the medicine here for you. It is a gift from God.” She wept with relief as we prepared the medication. Several hugs were shared. It is hard to convey the joy we all shared in being there at the right time.
I guess you could say that I am addicted to going to the Dominican Republic. I started out wanting to give and to make a difference for people, following Jesus' admonition to care for the poor. But now I go because I love going. We have made friends who help us in our work, we have watched many children grow up and start going to college. So it is all about relationships. We build schools, churches, and playgrounds, and conduct children's ministry and medical clinics. They show us how to be happy with less, how to be generous with little, and how to be grateful. After 10 trips, my hope is strong that I will be able to continue for many years to come.
— Dr. Linda Walsh '76, Jarrettsville Family Care, Jarrettsville, Maryland