Missions on Hold as Pandemic Puts Plans on Pause
by Wayne Sampson, M.D.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans!”
– Woody Allen.
For many of us, this was supposed to be a celebratory year – marking among other notable milestones the 75″th” anniversary of the end of World War II and the founding of the United Nations, the centenary of the 19″th” Amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote, and the 50th anniversary of the New York City marathon. The Tokyo Summer Olympics was among many eagerly awaited world events that beckoned. And for our members and supporters of HERO, it was the year we looked forward to multiple festivities celebrating our 20″th” anniversary of medical, humanitarian, and educational relief work in the Americas.
Our anniversary will no doubt be observed in some fashion, but will be substantially subdued due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has already exacted a heavy toll on our 2020 calendar. After many months of extensive planning, we had been all set to embark on our annual spring Medical Relief Mission to Guyana when the emerging threat of the coronavirus pandemic compelled our cancellation of those plans. We have since been similarly forced to cancel our annual Fundraising Breakfast, while plans for our August mission have been placed on hold at this time.
Though this virus is new — effectively stopping us in our tracks — we had all been hoping for a quick turnaround that would enable us to resume our “normal” routines before long. Instead, the world has been turned on its head: as of Mother’s Day this year, more than 129,000 deaths in the United States alone have been attributed to COVID-19, and more than 44.2 million Americans have been rendered jobless, raising the country’s unemployment rate to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Globally, more than 507,000 people have so far died of the disease, with the number of confirmed infections approaching 10.4 million. In short, this epidemic has been catastrophic, with just about every sector of the society adversely affected. The elderly, people with pre-existing conditions and weakened immune systems, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted. With every passing day, it becomes increasingly clear that we are in for a long battle.
As we struggle to contain this virus, guidance so far has placed a lot of emphasis on prevention, every ounce of which is worth a pound of cure. Many of us have become understandably anxious and stressed due to suspended routines, uncomfortable adaptations, and loss of control over our sense of normalcy. As a medical relief and educational organization, the majority of our HERO volunteers are also healthcare professionals. We are on the frontlines in the battle against the ravages of this virus. Every time we don our personal protective equipment at work, we are reminded that we must also save ourselves. Some of us have gotten sick but we are thankful that we were able to recover and return to fight another day.
This is an all-consuming struggle that we must win to restore confidence in our way of life. That would be the best way for us to honor those we have lost! For us, this battle cannot come to an end soon enough; our commitment to service remains stronger than ever and we look forward to picking up right where we left off as soon as possible in delivering help and restoring hope to those in need. The year may have been off to a rocky start but it is still far from over, and even with the specter of coronavirus lurking in the shadows, we hope to resume our HERO humanitarian agenda long before 2021 rolls around. Until then, let us be ever mindful of this life-saving guidance: wash your hands often, liberally disinfect frequently used surfaces, wear your masks in public spaces, carry your hand sanitizer, and remember that six feet apart may keep you from being six feet under!
HEALTH & EDUCATION RELIEF ROUND-UP 2016:
THOUSANDS SERVED as VOLUNTEER MISSIONS EXPAND PROGRAM PORTFOLIO
by Collie Oudkerk, M.D.*
In missions to Guyana during the months of March and August 2016, volunteer teams from the Health and Educational Relief (HERO) surpassed all previous relief records by directly administering quality healthcare to more than 2,000 medical patients and successfully completing more than 50 surgeries in villages and municipalities across the country. our Literacy and Educational Support Summer Program also doubled its footprint: in addition to our previously established tutoring service for elementary students in the communities of Sophia and Den Amstel, the program was expanded in 2016 to serve children at Mocha Village on the East Bank Demerara and Lusignan on the East Coast Demerara as well. Originally designed as a summer-long tutoring program to help struggling students achieve grade-level proficiency, the 2016 expansion enables us now to conduct a year-long pilot project to support eligible students in preparing for standardized exams throughout the school year.
Medical, Surgical Missions Break New Ground
Our March Medical Mission consisted of 36 physicians and surgeons, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other frontline primary-care providers who conducted an intensive five-day outreach program from March 5th to 12th, in the cities of Linden and Georgetown (click here for complete list of Mission participants/hyperlink). In August, many of those providers re-enlisted and were among the 46 mission specialists who participated in our expanded summer program, consisting of direct clinical outreach to patients in the villages of Lusignan, Golden Grove and Mocha, in addition to the cities of Georgetown and Linden and their contiguous communities of Amelia’s Ward, Christianburg, One Mile Wismar and Sophia. For the second consecutive year, a one-day Health Fair held in the Linden city center also proved to be a spectacular success; scores of residents took advantage of our free screenings and on-the-spot counseling and treatment protocols for high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and prostate abnormalities.
Our August medical mission was further augmented by the wholesale nike nfl jerseys from china presence of volunteers from allied specialties including pharmacists, nutritionists and emergency medical technicians. As in previous years, our professional clinicians were supported by a team of enthusiastic pre-medical, nursing and pharmacy students for whom our mission constituted an invaluable opportunity for both professional and cultural enrichment.
Our surgical program also exceeded previous performance records in 2016. In addition to our veteran cadre of orthopedic and other specialist surgeons, our surgery program was further enhanced by the addition of Dr. Paul Rollins, a plastic surgeon providing much needed reconstructive surgeries for women affected by breast cancer, as well as Dr. Brian Whyte, a vascular surgeon whose expertise will be of particular assistance to patients affected by longstanding diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease. Our team was further strengthened by the addition of Dr. DoronRingler, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and Dr. OpeyemiLamikanra, who is also an orthopedic and hand surgeon (click here for complete list of August Mission participants/hyperlink). Our surgical teams continue to work closely with their local counterparts and to mentor younger surgeons in Guyana in a mutually collaborative relationship.
Vision Care, Literacy Programs on the Rise
Since its inception nearly two years ago, our Vision Care program has provided free eye glasses to more than 500 patients. Led by Dr. Tanesha Bazemore, Dr. Sharon Gordon and Mr. Jon Mitchell, the program once again conducted extensive vision screenings and eye exams at Project Dawn, located in Liliendaal, Georgetown on the East Coast Demerara as part of our 2016 summer mission. Nutritional counseling was also provided to those at risk of collateral complications arising from chronic conditions such as diabetes. Referrals were offered as warranted to those requiring ophthalmological interventions for anatomical abnormalities or diseases of the eye.
On the literacy and educational front, a doubling of our program footprint from two to four locations means that we are now able to reach at least twice as many students who can benefit from our tutoring services. Moreover, in addition to our six-week summer intensive, we have now launched our new, year-long pilot project to help eligible students prepare for the standardized exams. Students are nominated for enrollment on the basis of their assessed need, and are also provided with backpacks and other school supplies at no cost to their families. Classes are conducted by locally certified teachers who are screened and recruited by an independent agency contracted by HERO for this purpose. The response to this initiative thus far has been exceptionally robust.
HERO is profoundly grateful to our volunteer experts and specialists, students, and other well-wishers for making 2016 yet another banner year for our organization and we look forward to your continued support of our efforts in the years ahead.
*Dr. Collie Oudkerk is a practicing physician and President of the Health and Education Relief (HERO).
- 2015 Roundup
Making Strides in 2015
HERO MARKS 15TH ANNIVERSARY MILESTONE WITH BANNER YEAR OF SERVICE
Thanks to the extraordinary dedication, generosity and support of our members and patrons, volunteers, sponsors and well-wishers, HERO celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2015 with yet another cheap nfl jerseys year of outstanding service to communities of need across the Caribbean. As in previous years, we conducted two separate missions – in the spring and summer. Both missions were conducted in Guyana and served a combined total of some 1800 patients. Staffed by a cadre of 30 volunteer physicians and surgeons, nurse practitioners and other allied professionals and students, our spring mission was conducted from March 7th – 15th in the Wismar, Christianburg, Amelia’s Ward and Silver Hill communities of Linden, and in the villages of Lusignan, Ann’s Grove, and Bachelor’s Adventure on the East Coast of Demerara. Additional activities were conducted in the suburban community of Sophia and in the capital, Georgetown. Our summer mission, held from August 1st to 8th, was staffed by a total of 39 healthcare professionals and students, including many returning veterans. In addition to follow-up visits in communities previously served by our March mission, outreach clinics were also conducted in the villages of Enmore, Beterverwagting, and Victoria. Orthopedic and gynecological surgeries were performed at the main municipal hospitals in Georgetown and New Amsterdam, Berbice. (For a complete list of healthcare professionals and other volunteer participants in our spring and summer missions to Guyana, please click here).
Re-Instiuition of Literacy Project
In addition to our medical outreach clinics, we were also pleased to initiate this year an imminent expansion of our Literacy Program – from a six-week summer project to a year-round tutoring partnership with local educators preparing elementary students for standardized tests. This expansion is being implemented in response to popular demand, following our previous successes in helping struggling students improve their grade-level performance in key subject areas. (For a complete list of participating volunteers in our education program, please click here).
Our surgery program also made significant strides in 2015: thanks to our orthopedic pediatric specialists, ever increasing numbers of young children are now able to take their first steps as a result of corrective surgery to their lower extremities. In this regard, we were especially pleased to welcome back to our ranks Dr. Claude Scott, who spearheaded our orthopedic mission this year and successfully performed corrective surgeries on more than a dozen children. We were similarly pleased to welcome back our returning gynecologist Dr. Keisha Benn, who partnered most recently with Dr. Christina Flores to perform multiple life-changing surgeries at the Berbice Hospital. We look forward in 2016 to further expanding our mission portfolio with the addition of oral, maxillary, spinal and breast reconstruction surgeries.
HERO also officially launched our Vision Program in 2015. Special thanks are due in this effort to our Optometrist, Dr. Tanesha Bazemore, and our Optician, Mr. Jon Mitchell. In our inaugural year of the program, we were able to distribute corrective lenses and eyeglasses free of charge to some 276 patients. For many who had long struggled with limited vision, this new program has opened their eyes to a new world, and additional services are planned in the year ahead.
We are deeply grateful to our supporters and volunteers for making our 15th anniversary another banner year. In one-and-a-half decades of continuous humanitarian service, HERO has come of age. We look forward to many more decades of successful contribution to the upliftment and wellbeing of peoples everywhere.