BUCKHANNON — For the 18th year in a row, a local group from Upshur County will pack up a hefty load of equipment and supplies head south to help out.
Hands and Hearts for Christ will travel back to the country of Belize on its annual medical mission trip to serve the underserved, Dr. Sue Long told the Buckhannon Rotary Club on Tuesday.
Hands and Hearts for Christ has been traveling to the poverty-stricken country since 2000 to perform basic surgeries, operating a dental clinic as well as a medical clinic. Over the past 17 years, they’ve completed over 1,100 surgeries. They’ve worked in Dangriga, Orange Walk and most recently Corozal, a country in the north of the Central American country, where they will be traveling back to this year.
This year’s trip will take place April 29 through May 7, Long and her husband, Dave Long, told the Rotary Club, which donated $2,500 to aid in the well-established medical mission at Tuesday’s meeting. What brings the team back year after year is the deep-seated need for basic medical care – something that is severely lacking in the country.
“The underserved-ness of the country is pretty profound,” Sue Long said. “If you just think about it, Upshur County has, what, about 25,000 people, and we have St. Joseph’s Hospital, we have two general surgeons (including Long), but Belize has a million people and there might be 10 general surgeons in the entire country and they kind of rotate in and out from Cuba somewhat.”
Long said one general surgeon per every 10,000 people simply to serve basic needs, including operations on appendixes, hernias, gallbladders and basic trauma.
“They have absolutely no trauma system,” she said. “If you get in a trauma in Belize, you are in big trouble because there’s nobody to help you. They barely have an ambulance to come get you, so when we get there, it can be very frustrating because you want to fix everybody.”
When the group arrives, they typically survey a record of what operations the surgeons in Belize have performed the previous year.
“I’m telling you, if you’re not dying, you don’t get an operation,” Long said, contrasting the medical care available in the United States to that available in Belize. “We encounter patients with cancer and we’re like, ‘you have to go to Mexico because there’s nothing.’ It’s different every year, and you have to learn the politics of the place because that influences what you can and can’t do.”
It’s not unusual for patients to drive five hours or ride on a bus for the same amount of time when they know the Hands and Hearts for Christ medical mission team is en route, Long said. They serve as many people as they can, while providing comfort to those they aren’t able to help, the doctor added, noting the team typically undertakes about 20 surgeries a day in two rooms.
In addition to a medical clinic, over the past 10 years, the team has also run a dental clinic, Georgene Conde, another member of Hands and Hearts for Christ, told the club. Last year, that clinic served 350 people. In 2017, 14 people will make up the dental team, and they’re never sure what to expect, Conde said.
“It’s different every time,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re going to be doing – you don’t know what your population is. They don’t have good access to any kind of medical care. What we get done in our office (Johns, Conde & Malone Dentistry) in a day, they might get done in their dental clinic in a couple months.”
In addition to the difficulty of never knowing what they’ll encounter, Hands and Hearts for Christ must take everything they need with them. As a result, they assemble all of the items necessary for surgeries, which is a year-long, “monumental” task, Long said. In order to pay for the trip, supplies and the money necessary to pack and ship those supplies, Hands and Hearts for Christ holds a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, including spaghetti dinners, bingo, gun raffles, golf tournaments and the Sponsor a Trunk campaign.
Right now, the group is still collecting money via the Sponsor a Trunk campaign, which helps cover the costs of the baggage fees associated with checking the trunks and duffle bags the group needs to haul all of its supplies. If you wish to sponsor a trunk, please mail a check for $50 to: Hands and Hearts for Christ, P.O. Box 2156, Buckhannon, WV 26201.