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Doctors, hospital employees serve others on mission trip

A 19-year-old man injured in a machete fight and a mother who spent two hours carrying her baby up a mountain were among more than 1,700 patients treated by a medical mission team from Adventist Midwest Health that traveled to Central America in January.

Adventist Midwest Health – which includes four suburban Chicago hospitals in Bolingbrook, Glendale Heights, Hinsdale and La Grange – sponsors an international mission trip annually for a team of physicians, employees and guests. For the second year in a row, the team partnered with Pan American Health Services Inc. in Honduras to set up medical centers in remote areas and care for children at a nutritional orphanage, where parents leave their children when they can’t afford to feed them.

Among the 32 people on the trip was Dr. Gary Lipinski, regional vice president of medical staff services. He said the most challenging part of the trip was caring for patients with the limited medical resources available.

“A patient came in with chest pains, but we only had enough Aspirin to help him for a month,” Lipinski said. “We quickly realized that we were not going to be able to cure all the illnesses, but instead, we could offer some comfort to most of the patients.”

Lipinski and other members of the group’s medical team traveled to different areas of the countryside to treat patients in churches and community centers. By the time the team arrived on site, there would already be 200 to 300 patients waiting in line. With the closest major health care facility 45-90 minutes away, medical care can be difficult to find.

“We in America live a life of luxury, and we don’t worry about seeing a doctor because doctors are always around,” said Liz Hulford, a chaplain at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. “But in Honduras, there’s a real need, and it’s our responsibility as Christians to go and serve our neighbors in need.”

Common ailments include colds, flu, migraine headaches and parasite infections. Each member of the Adventist Midwest Health mission team brought along two suitcases, one with their belongings and a second filled with basic hygiene and medical supplies. The second suitcase is left behind to help those in need.

Participating in the mission trip was something she felt compelled to do, said Cristina Ruiz, Adventist Midwest Health’s regional director of strategic development. Fluent in Spanish, she helped the medical team by interpreting. She also gave a presentation on abstinence. In an area where the average age of a girl’s first pregnancy is 14, abstinence can seem like a foreign concept. The team saw some girls who had given birth as early as age 11. One girl told Ruiz she was raped by her uncle.  

“That broke my heart,” Ruiz said. “I was honored that she trusted me enough to share this terrible experience with me. I told her that even though this terrible thing had happened, her heart was still pure. We prayed together. I still pray for her.”

In addition to the medical staff, the team also included members who focused on construction and ministry. The construction team renovated bathrooms in the boys’ dormitory at the orphanage.  

The mission trip is a natural outgrowth of Adventist Midwest Health’s mission to extend the healing ministry of Christ, explained John Rapp, regional vice president, ministries and mission.