Doctors on a Mission
Huancavelica, Peru, in August 2011
Orthopedic Surgeon Steve Mora, MD, and Ophthalmoloigst Aisha Simjee, MD, recently returned from a seven-day medical mission to Huancavelica, Peru. Here are some highlights from the trip, as shared by Dr. Mora:
The mission to Huancavelica, Peru happens every year in August. It is organized by the Peruvian American Medical Society (PAMS). There were seven other doctors and numerous nurses and students. The doctors who participated were from all over the US. Dr. Simjee and I were able to see hundreds of patient, operate on numerous patients with serious pathology, provide education, and refer patients to Lima who had complex conditions.
The city of Huancavelica is in the poorest city of Peru. It is located 13,000 feet high in the Andes mountains. After landing in Lima we took a 12-hour bus ride into Huancavelica. It took a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. It was winter and the coldness would penetrate our limbs.
Most of the people in Huancavelica live in poverty. Many only speak Quechua which is the old Incan language. Our day began with an early breakfast at the hotel followed by a short walk to the hospital. Some of us opted to take a morning mountain hike before breakfast to watch the sun come up over the mountains. We worked in tents alongside the local hospital. A Peruvian medical school sent a couple of medical students to help. The local government helped in spreading the word and in transporting people from the poorest margins of the city into town. We brought much of the equipment and medicine necessary to take care of various conditions encountered in the clinic. We were also able to donate thousands of dollars' worth of equipment to the hospital. Our medical students worked closely with an orphanage. They provided education and donations such as toys, toothbrushes and shoes.
The trip was a great experience. I was able to put my general orthopaedic surgery skills to work. The Peruvian people were kind and appreciative. Some of these folks traveled hours or days to see us. Some of them brought their children or elderly parents to be seen. The poverty and destitution were profound. Many of the people we saw lived on pennies a day. Most of them were not looking for miracles but just reassurance that they were going to be all right.
The experience now seems surreal and distant. Since I had lived in Peru in my infancy, going back to Peru as a physician represented something very special and meaningful. We touched a lot of lives and in turn a lot of lives touched us. In the end, I think we were the true beneficiaries of this mission.