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Compelled to Serve

Aug 09, 2019 09:17AM ● By Med Magazine

By Kim Lee

Yankton Medical Clinic is proud of its service to patients near and far and its commitment to global human health

The mission of Yankton Medical Clinic is to provide timely, compassionate, quality care, with respect for and trust in those we serve; and our health care providers exemplify how that commitment to serve can permeate borders. Two of Yankton Medical Clinic’s medical doctors have traveled to remote, high-need areas of the world to offer care, guidance and expertise to those in need. 

Guatemala: James Young, DO, FAOCD

Every winter for the past 11 years, James Young, D.O., FAOCD, has packed a bag of medical supplies and taken it halfway around the world from Yankton, South Dakota, to Antigua, Guatemala, in Central America, to tend to various medical conditions in the densely-populated country. 

Young, a board-certified dermatologist at Yankton Medical Clinic, volunteers with DOCARE International, an osteopathic mission organization, and also serves on its volunteer board of directors. He took an eight-day trip to Guatemala in early 2019--his 11th trip with DOCARE.

DOCARE (pronounced “do-care”) is a nonprofit organization that provides health care in the underserved regions of the world three ways: coordinating 15-20 short-term global health outreach trips per year; supporting permanent primary care clinics in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Kenya, staffed by local physicians; and providing opportunities for medical students and residents to complete month-long rotations in these clinics.

Young says his patients in the small geographical area of Guatemala he serves are of all ages, although there is a smaller number of the elder population; seldom does he see someone over the age of 60 in the country that is predominantly of Mayan ancestry. 

When the word gets out that American doctors are there to see patients, lines form and people come from all over the area to be seen. “It’s easy to look at the problem and get overwhelmed, but we have decided to do what we can and we’ve chosen to make a difference in the lives of the people of Guatemala,” Young said.

What distinguishes DOCARE from other organizations is that once the doctors have gone to a location several times to establish a presence, permanent clinics are set up. Those clinics are staffed by Guatemalan doctors whom the visiting doctors refer patients to for chronic disease. The set-up is mutually beneficial, Young says. “We have the opportunity to educate those doctors, and in turn, be educated by them about the culture and the issues they see. Education flows freely both ways.” 

DOCARE was invited to provide care after the country’s civil war ended in 1996. The organization subsidizes the patient’s care so medicine costs very little. Although the clinic implements a sliding fee scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay.

Giving Back

“We are truly blessed in this country,” he observed. “People in Guatemala have little to nothing and are content. We, in the U.S., have so much and only want more. It’s been an extremely humbling experience to be of service there. People are people; it’s really a small world.”

The dermatologist says the work he does in that remote locale is just as fulfilling to him, if not more so, than to the patients he sees. “I believe in the concept of noblesse oblige, which means ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ I feel like I have been given a great gift and those people have no access to dermatology care so it’s a privilege to be of service to them,” Young professed. “I have the opportunity to interact with colleagues from around the country, give talks about dermatology to medical students and provide dermatology care.”

His mission trips have even become a family affair; Young’s wife joins him on each trip, and in more recent years, Young’s son, a resident in emergency medicine, has accompanied him. “To practice medicine alongside your son is a kick,” he said. 

“I think most people come away from this type of experience changed and you hope they are intrigued to try raise up the next generation and to go again,” Young said. “It’s a privilege that I can’t even describe. It’s wonderful to participate in people’s lives in this way, where there are no barriers other than language. Cost is not an issue, I’m not wrestling with a computer system, it’s person-to-person and I’m helping them with what limited medicine I have at my disposal.   

“It’s something I truly enjoy and truly look forward to all year long and I hope that God lets me for many years.” 

India: Daniel Megard, M.D., FACP

For Dr. Daniel Megard, making overseas mission trips to spread the Christian word is just as gratifying as healing the sick. But mission trips weren’t really on the internal medicine physician’s radar until he met a pastor from Trinity Lutheran Church at a social event for the youth of his church. 

“We got to talking about mission trips and he mentioned this India mission trip, and we decided then and there to plan a trip to India,” Megard said. “We found others to join us—Certified Nurse Practitioner students, a massage therapist, a Lutheran pastor and a lawyer--and 14 months later, we set off for India.” 

The Christian school Neerekshe, near the village of Muranpur in the state of Karnataka in south central India, was the group’s destination. It’s a unique school, given its Christian affiliation in a predominately Hindu area, where only 1.5-2 percent of the population is Christian. Of the 275 students at the school, 200 commute there from local villages and 75 are boarders.  

There, the missionaries engaged with 55 boys and 15 girls, ranging from 5 to 16 years old. Days consisted of presenting a Christian theme to the 275 children, with another missionary leading the teacher’s prayer, presenting a Bible verse and introducing a theme to the teachers. The 75 boarding students had evening prayers, and the group led a Bible study or witnessing and singing. “All the kids spoke English at this school so communicating with them was easy,” Megard said. 

The Right Time

For Dr. Megard, the missionary service opportunity was perfect timing. “I’ve always had a calling to do this type of work and in my career it’s the right time. My youngest was a senior in high school, I have two in college and one out of college. As Christians, we are called to help those less fortunate than we are, and so this is hopefully the first of many trips for me. I have plans to go back again. My wife and I have decided to make a financial commitment to this school because they want to expand and spread the word.”

The school’s goal is to grow in numbers, expand to take older students and eventually even establish a college there. Megard would like to see one or two of those students come to the U.S. for college and have a major impact on their life.

The missionary group also set up “medical camps” in the villages, working with a local Indian doctor. Word of the Americans’ presence each evening would spread quickly. “We opened the clinic about 6 p.m., when the temperature started to drop, and we’d see about 40 patients between 6-8 p.m.,” Megard explained. “We saw things we have never seen before--the very first patient we saw had tuberculosis of the knee. I’ve never seen that in my career. The Indian doctor asked me how many cases of tuberculosis I’d seen in my career--I told him I’d seen maybe five cases total, but only in the lung. It just blew him away.”  

Among those patients they saw, the missionaries hoped to establish the notion that continued care is necessary. Although the Indian patients face many of the same health issues that patients in the U.S. face, many Indian patients don’t follow up with medications and checkups. 

Megard says he is unsure if his religious impact on the students is long-lasting, but it’s still a cause he firmly believes in. “I don’t know if I’ll ever know the real consequences of the trips I make and the people I interact with,” he said. “The medical impact will be minimal. But hopefully, the Christian perspective will be lasting. I always wonder who we’ve affected—did we plant a seed and water and nourish it? I think the bigger impact is the Christian message we bring.”

“I would certainly recommend mission work to anyone,” Megard urged. “If you do any kind of mission work, you’ll be impacted more than the impact you’ll make. There are so many opportunities to serve others and spread the Christian message. Hear the calling and respond.”