Guam – They may be ordinary doctors and nurses, but to some they are heroes. In the last installment of our five-part series on Guam’s Medical Mission to the Philippines, we hear from some of the doctors and nurses as they reflect on what this mission meant to them.
Eleven doctors and eight nurses and support staff joined the recent medical mission to the Philippines to help victims of Typhoon Yolanda. And in a matter of three days, the team served 2,856 patients from fetuses to the elderly in areas where access to healthcare was very limited.
The first day of the mission in Daanbantayan, Cebu, the team saw 595 patients. And this being his first medical mission, Internal Medicine physician, Dr. Felix Cabrera reflects on what that first day was like.
“When it’s a disaster relief medical mission, you expect to see a lot of trauma, you think about infections things like that, that happen immediately after the storm. So that was in my mind frame there, but this being two weeks post typhoon, I knew that was gonna change a little bit and the focus was gonna a little bit more on infection,” explains Dr. Cabrera.
While many of his patients were indeed suffering from infectious diseases caused by a typhoon, Dr. Cabrera also says that, like many impoverished areas in the Philippines, this was a province that needed medical attention anyway.
“What became painfully obvious was that this was an area that needed a medical mission regardless and that the typhoon itself was just a catalyst to get us there and that you take this situation and you multiply it numerous times throughout many parts of the Philippine and, let’s face it, the world as well,” he says.
As a medical expert, Dr. Cabrera realized in the few hours he spent at the first mission site that many of the residents had never seen a doctor in their life.
“I can safely say that our impact was probably very great in these situations and we prevented a lot of major diseases, and in all likelihood we prevented a lot of premature deaths,” he points out.
For OB/GYN Dr. Tom Shieh, helping our sister nation was instinct. As a doctor, it was about the human spirit, but being from Guam, it was also about the hafa adai spirit, he says.
“It’s a humanistic feeling that we have to reach out to help and as a doctor that’s how we feel. We’re taught to treat, make diagnosis but we’re also taught to have some altruistic meaning to life and that’s what we tried to do is to reach out to the people,” he says. “Guam is always about family, the network, the hafa adai spirit, so when we heard that, a bunch of doctors got together.”
His Licensed Professional Nurse, Grace Salamera, also joined in the mission. At 26-years-old, Salamera was the youngest member of the team. But even at that age, Salamera handled it like a pro, saying that not once did it feel like work for her.
“It actually didn’t feel like work, I was actually happy to help these people–my people, my kababayans. So it was good to be a part of it,” she says. “So we saw a lot of OB patients in line. A lot of them, some of them, were even high risk. I even saw a patient in line that had a huge goiter. a lot of them didn’t have any prenatal care.”
Dr. Shieh adds: “For me this is the first mission for me in the Philippines, on the ground and I’ll do it again.”
And that concludes our five part series on Guam’s Medical Mission to the Philippines. Thank you again to Docomo Pacific for their generous support in making these reports possible.
And don’t forget to tune in on Sunday, December 15 for our half hour special “From Tragedy to Triumph: The faces of Typhoon Yolanda.”