Warren Volker, MD, PhD
Chief Clinical Officer
Healthcare Partners: A DaVita Medical Group, CEO, WellHealth Quality Care Division

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20. When I arrived there for our humanitarian and medical mission trip a full six weeks later, there was still no power. Half the island didn’t have access to fresh water. People were living in destroyed and half-built homes that would have been condemned in the U.S. It looked like a war zone. And there was a tremendous need for basic medical care.

That’s why we decided to make the trek from Las Vegas, where we had recently survived our own tragedy, to Puerto Rico. Working in conjunction with Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and the local health ministry, I brought a team of physicians from Las Vegas to provide supplies and basic care.

On the island, Boston Scientific’s Puerto Rico office served as our home base. We went in prepared to do surgery, but we found ourselves providing basic healthcare for broken bones, lacerations and medical management crises. Each day was different.

We set up in makeshift clinics outside San Juan. People would line up as early as 7 in the morning, and we would see patients until we couldn’t see patients anymore.

We went to apartments in the inner city where elderly folks live. We put every supply we could in our backpacks and literally went apartment to apartment.

We set up pop-up clinics in areas where there weren’t roads or transportation. We took shuttles to remote areas, and the people would direct us to those who needed help.

It brought me back to the reason I became a doctor. I hadn’t treated a patient for high blood pressure or taken care of a baby in more than 15 years. I wasn’t worried about insurance and the distractions from modern medicine. I was just helping people.

And the thanks and appreciation from the people, local government and local physicians were tremendous. The local people were thanking us and hugging us, and asking us if we were okay after the October Mandalay Bay shooting. It was incomprehensible that people who had just lost everything they ever owned and didn’t have water and power cared about how we were doing.

I know we saved many lives. We dressed wounds to protect people from infection. We provided medications for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.  And I will never forget the mother who walked four miles with her baby to see us. She kept saying that her baby was so sleepy, but the child was actually dying from sepsis due to tainted water used in the formula. We got them transferred to a hospital, and I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t been there that day.

 

Medical mission trips revitalize why I originally went into medicine, and I get way more back than I give. It’s an honor to be someone who is able to heal people, and I realized the impact I can have just caring for simple conditions. In fact, I feel more accomplished in those instances than I do performing the most intense surgery. You don’t need all the fancy stuff to practice medicine. It’s a pilgrimage to go through.

If you’re interested in resetting and revitalizing your career with a medical mission trip, you can start by talking to colleagues who have gone on a mission or by doing some Internet research on non-profit organizations. And if you can’t go yourself, support the missions that are taking place by donating money, time or supplies.

We are planning to return to Puerto Rico this summer on a bigger mission in partnership with UNLV and other corporate partners from Las Vegas. In additional to medical aid, we will be bringing engineers to help with water, the existing power grid and solar renewable power. Visit our website at VegasCareforPuertoRico.org to find out more about our last mission and how you can get involved.

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