Medical missions to the Philippines by expatriates and physicians from other countries like the United States have been going on for more than half a century.
My initial experience with healthcare ministry to the poor was in 1962, when I became the pioneer volunteer to the Work-A-Year-With-The-People project of then Senator Raul S. Manglapus, Manuel Quezon, Jr., and Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., now an incumbent Philippine Senator. My classmate, Arturo de Leon, MD, now a retired Internist in Raleigh, North Carolina, was the other volunteer. I was assigned to the remote doctorless jungle of Palanan, Isabela, and Art, in Kapangan, Mountain Province.
Over the years, we have been doing medical missions in various towns in our Motherland. The latest one this year was at the Kamay ni Hesus Shrine and Healing Center, a 5-hectare pilgrimage site in Lucban, Quezon, constructed in February 2002 and headed by its founder, the Rev. Fr. Joey Faller. It was constructed with the help of Quezonians, other Filipino donors, and Fr. Faller himself, who shared his family heirloom inheritance for the final construction of this internationally popular shrine, now a tourist attraction, especially on religious holidays. Atop the 305-step mountain is the Via Dolorosa Grotto with the spectacular 50-foot statue of Ascending Christ, the world’s third tallest statute of the Risen Christ. The valley down below has the Resurrected Christ, Luklukan ni Maria, The Angels Hill, Gallery of Saints, Marian Park, Garden of Eden, the Noah’s Ark, and religious murals. The entire Shrine looks like a busy family religious mini-Disney theme park.
There were hundreds of people, more than half children, who were waiting for us that early morning when our makeshift clinic opened. Our medical team mostly from Las Vegas was prepared for this. We had been here before.
As expected, the most common illnesses among the patients were high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, heart and lung diseases, thyroid problem, obesity, eczema and fungus skin infections, and gastrointestinal. The surgical procedures done were for resection of tumors in various parts of the body and circumcision. The pediatric cases were mostly upper respiratory tract infection, dermatologic conditions, gastrointestinal problems, heart and neurologic illnesses.
The boxes of various medications and vitamins our team brought in from the United States and those we purchased in Manila were specifically chosen based on our experiences in previous medical missions over the past decades.
The medical team was assisted by local nurses and aides. A triage was set up and each volunteer ministered to the sick. It was a bit chaotic because of the number of patients who came from far and near. No one was turned away. In spite of the volume of work, especially for our pediatrician and internists, the entire mission, including the surgeries, went on very well. We have attended to more than 1,200 patients, all of whom received medical care and medications as well, all for free.
The grateful expression in the eyes and smiles of the patients was enough to make the tiredness in us for marathon medical service disappear. While we have treated their physical illnesses, they and their appreciation and gratitude have treated our longing and desire to be a part of our fellow Filipinos once more by serving them. The reward we, medical missionaries, always get from these missions of love and compassion is the sense of inner satisfaction and joy in our heart for alleviating the suffering of our fellowmen, albeit only a small token of our hope and dream for all our fellowmen around the globe. Someday, perhaps, all these pleasant and happy memories will provide us warmth in the winter of our life. – Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS