Stories From A Country Doctor - Book Two - Medical Mission Trips

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The drive into the slum was surreal. It felt like we were in a scene from the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. Poverty was all around with evil eyes with piercing gazes into our van as we drove deeper into the slum. We finally arrived at the school and it was a relative oasis. It was an amazing sight.

We gave them school supplies and they sang us songs.

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Perhaps the most exciting thing for me was to have the opportunity to give them Luminaid lamps. These lamps are foldable, water resistant solar powered pocket-sized lamps that blow up and provide light for the kids to study. I think that all of us left the school amazed at the joy and happiness that these kids and teachers have despite living in conditions we consider deplorable.

Perhaps the most important thing we learned from this mission was taught to us by Pitchou. He told us of his amazing escape from the persecution of his people in the Congo and his near death experience on a crowded, corrupt, deadly train ride across the country to a refugee camp where he lived for 5 years. You have to come here. America is the easiest country in the world.

All you have to do is go to school and you get a job. He finished school,became a neurophysiologist, wrote and sold software that allows doctors to remotely monitor nerve function, was placed in charge of spine operations for Nuvasive in Africa, organized mission trips to train surgeons in Africa to help others, and the list of his accomplishments goes on and on.

Work hard. Everything else follows. He taught us his problem free philosophy Hakuna Matata. He lived it.

Our mission trip was awesome. Our goals were accomplished. God has blessed me with the passion, knowledge and skill to help others. It makes me feel good. It makes me happy. Experiencing this joy with my family and friends made this once in a lifetime opportunity even better than I could have imagined. Call for an Appointment Complex Spine Surgery.

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Through the aid of an Order of Malta grant, the education component was able to continue their efforts to enhance education in Tanzania by bringing computers and LCD projectors to the schools with whom they had worked in The teams cared for more than 2, patients, a record number for MFH. In the past two years Missions for Humanity has provided textbooks for students in four village schools which had never had books in the outlying villages of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, built a solar powered well so students would have clean water to drink at Kichangani primary school, and built 6 toilets at the village school in Muhimblili.

In one week the WBO restored sight to 91 people. In Missions for Humanity also helped build a dental clinic at the mission in Guaimaca, Honduras which was recently completed and opened for business. Missions for Humanity continues to be an ever-growing, vibrant organization. Tarif Bakdash is a Syrian-born pediatric neurologist living in Brookfield. Jennifer Nitschke-Thomas, Milwaukee, is a nurse who is married to another member of the mission, Xavier Thomas. Both are active in Black Lives Matter.

Xavier Thomas, Milwaukee, is a youth director hoping to become a pastor. He is married to Jennifer Nitschke-Thomas.

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He is French-born and a deeply spiritual man. Stacey Volkman, Grafton, is a social worker at Froedtert Hospital, married with two sons.

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She brought with her a suitcase full of deflated soccer balls and puzzles for the children. Joanna Balza, Milwaukee, is a nurse at Froedtert Hospital who flew to Sierra Leone in to help with the response to the Ebola virus. Before dawn, Syrian-born pediatric neurologist Tarif Bakdash talks about medications with psychologist Musab al-Jaweesh right screen while treating patients in Syria via Skype. Two refugee girls enter the doctor's bare examination room, walking slowly, their upper bodies arched grotesquely to one side, like hooks.

Tarif Bakdash, a pediatric neurologist, guesses they are 8 and 11 years old. The doctor examines their backs and right away he knows. The warped spines bulging under the skin, the protruding ribs. Severe scoliosis. In the United States, where Bakdash lives, the girls would receive surgery to save their lives. But they are Syrians, living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The camp has no facilities for the surgery, the family no money to pay an outside hospital.

The doctor visualizes what lies in store for the girls. Without surgery, their spines will keep twisting. They may suffer paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel control. Eventually, their spines will press against the lungs, making it harder and harder for the girls to breathe. He does not tell the mother her girls will die. Instead, he tells her that the girls need surgery. The mother asks if he can take them with him to America, but the doctor knows it will be extremely difficult to get visas and a hospital to foot the bill—probably impossible.

As the mother gathers her girls to leave, the doctor is left trying to smile at her in a gesture of comfort. And he is conscious of how difficult it is to force that smile, how awful it feels. Although he helps dozens of children with seizure disorders and other conditions during his visit to the camp, it is that forced smile—and the girls he could not help—that remain a vivid memory. Almost a year later, on an evening in late March, he is on a , bound once again for Jordan, for the same refugee camp, the same cramped examination room.

A restless man of 51, Bakdash has lived in a Milwaukee suburb since , when he joined Children's Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin. A few weeks ago, he resigned; the next step in his nomadic career yet to be determined.

A Doctor's Mission: Flying to the Aid of Syrian Refugees

He is certain of one thing. Healing, his life's work, is calling him to the camp known as Zaatari, where 80, refugees from the Syrian civil war are living in limbo. They wait in a vast dirt field of prefab dwellings, hoping to return home if it is ever safe, but knowing their future may lie elsewhere. It is a tug-of-war the doctor has felt in his own heart.


The hour flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines offers time to reflect on all he misses: the sight of falafel cooking in the shops of Damascus; the scent of fresh-from-the-oven bread; the smoke from the ever-present hookahs; and the reverberating notes of the call to prayer floating through the old city. Now, the doctor lives in Brookfield, in a kind of exile, unable to forget his troubled homeland, but unable to return. Once Syria's national secretary for the disabled, Bakdash left to take a job in America in When the civil war began the following year, he had the audacity to email first lady Asma al-Assad, whom he knew personally, asking her to plead with her husband, President Bashar al-Assad, an old classmate of his from medical school.

Most of the youngsters are not malicious. They are just looking for their rights to live a better life. In the five years since, as evidence mounted that Assad was attacking his own people with barrel bombs and even chemical weapons, Bakdash emailed President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He gave talks and published a memoir—all critical of the Syrian government.

So he is flying back to Jordan to care for refugees who've fled Syria. This time, he is leading a small mission: two other doctors, two nurses, a social worker and a young man hoping to become a pastor. Although they won't be setting foot inside Syria, Bakdash worries about their safety. Two weeks earlier, seven men with ties to the Islamic State were gunned down by security forces in the Jordanian city of Irbid — the same city his mission had originally planned to visit. To distract himself, the doctor scrolls through the list of movies available to passengers and chooses "Brooklyn," the story of a woman torn between two homes.

Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia more than five years ago with a small but powerful act of protest, the self-immolation of a roadside fruit-seller, has evolved into an endless winter in Syria. The catalyzing event was the arrest and beating of more than a dozen boys in the southern city of Daraa. They were accused of spray-painting anti-government slogans on the walls of a school. Protests followed, but unlike those in Tunisia, which toppled the president, the Syrian demonstrations triggered a government crackdown. Thousands were arrested in Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa and Hama.

By the end of July , Syrian army tanks were rolling into cities. What began as a conflict between the Assad government and the rebel Syrian Free Army festered unresolved. It eventually mutated, drawing terrorist fighters from the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, as well as Russian bombers. To those who accused him of bombing his own people, the Syrian leader insisted his forces were fighting terrorists.

Apart from criticizing Assad and participating in airstrikes against the Islamic State, the U. Now dragging into its sixth year, the civil war has spawned its own grim novelties, including the use of YouTube and social media to broadcast torture and executions. But the war's most distinctive feature is one that is deeply personal to Bakdash: the systematic targeting of hospitals and clinics. Physicians for Human Rights, an international group that investigates mass atrocities, has documented attacks on hospitals and clinics in Syria and the deaths of more than medical personnel.

Such attacks violate rules of warfare that date back to the first Geneva Convention in Some areas of the country have been hit so hard that the hospitals left standing lack water, electricity and supplies. In cities besieged by government forces, medical supplies have been stripped out of the convoys trying to get through. All of these actions imperil not only civilians caught in the war's crossfire, but also those with routine conditions: heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes.

The idea behind the assault on medicine, Brown believes, is to erase any distinction between military and civilian, and to cause a sickening ripple. There were people that doctor would have treated and saved. Toward the back of the plane sits one of Bakdash's recruits, Thomas Chelimsky, a kindly year-old neurologist from Froedtert Hospital who is busying himself writing a grant proposal and a scientific paper.

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The French-born Chelimsky has never been to the Middle East.