Dr. Bob has led over 20 Mission trips to Africa
BRINGING ALONG MEDICAL STUDENTS TO SHOW THEM THE TRUE MEANING OF HEALTH "CARE".
UGANDA:2008 KENYA 2009
The earliest experience that changed the way he looked at the world:
This is a truly inspirational story.
One of the turning points of my life occurred when I was a "geriatric" 39-year-old 4th-year medical student. I was introduced to a man in Albany who was trying to raise a small amount of money to buy supplies and equipment for a Cholera "hospital" in central Mozambique.
Neto and I met almost by accident. I was leaving home to study for an exam at the library, but I had returned to retrieve a forgotten book. When I re-entered my home the phone was ringing. "Bob you've got to meet this guy sitting in my office" my friend Peter blurted out excitedly. “He's been sharing stories with me about Mozambique, and I'm getting really excited about what's going on there. You've got to meet him!” A meeting was hurriedly arranged.
A short while later I found myself in the presence of one of the most interesting—and extraordinary—people I have ever met. Neto has a smile that can light up a dark room. His warmth immediately burned through my awkwardness in meeting a stranger. His vitality and infectious laugh could make anyone feel that they had known him all their life. I would later learn that he could play the guitar such that it would make you weep, and also climb a coconut palm tree to pick out the choicest young coconuts with the sweetest "water." Within one hour, we were close friends.
Neto told me how he had given up a lucrative career and lots of money in his native Brazil to follow his heart to Mozambique. His fiancée gave him an ultimatum, "It's either me, or Africa!" They were to be married in four months. "I love you, but I must follow my calling to Africa. Please come with me!" An engagement ring thrown at his feet was the only reply. Neto later sold it to pay for a one-way plane ticket. By the end of the evening, I knew we would be working together. Four months later, Peter, an LPN, and I arrived at Albany County Airport ready to embark on the adventure of our lives, our first medical "mission of mercy to Mozambique." I was as green as a ripened lime, counting a trip to Iowa, as my furthest journey to date. I never expected the look on the ticket agent’s face when I responded, "12" to his question, "How many bags do you wish to check in?"
The agent responded, "No way, these bags are not going!" Peter, a more experienced traveler, came to the rescue. "These are emergency medical supplies for Mozambique; there are lives depending on them. They must go!" "No way!" was the agent’s response.
Never being daunted by a hopeless situation, Peter replied in his firm, but gentle manner. "Alright, we will leave these supplies here if you call the President of the airline, and he tells us they can't go. Otherwise, we are not moving!" The ticket agent was flabbergasted, but then amazingly picked up the telephone and began dialing corporate headquarters. Peter whispered to me "start praying!" I didn't need the reminder. The agent was getting frustrated as he was being transferred from department to department. We continued silently praying our hearts out. The check-in line was getting longer and longer. Finally we got a break! The executive vice president of the airlines answered the phone. The agent explained the situation to him in very unflattering terms. I couldn't help thinking we were dead. "What do you want me to do with these guys? They have the whole ticket area in a mess and the flights are going to be late." the agent said. I was still praying, all the while having visions of police officers coming to take us away. Finally the response came, "Help them load it on the plane!" God had saved our butts, again!
This was the first of many miracles we experienced on this truly incredible adventure, but all this paled in the light of what we would soon experience! Arriving in Mozambique we quickly found ourselves in the middle of what had to be a chapter from Dante's Inferno. We worked in seven refugee camps with 50,000 refugees in various stages of filth, disease, and starvation. The nearest real doctor was 500 miles of African road away. In our makeshift clinic we encountered every conceivable horror. There were cases of malaria, infection, and starvation all served with an ample portion of hopelessness and despair and topped with lice and scabies—just in case you weren't already feeling you had landed somewhere in the vicinity of hell. Peter and I would return from a long day in the clinic seeing hundreds of people. We would flop on our mattresses on the floor and cry until our pillows were soaked with tears. This was no gentle crying; our sobs would have rattled the window panes, if there had been windows. I remember praying "Lord, please kill me! I'd rather be dead than see one more starving baby! I can't do this anymore!" God didn't answer my prayer.
As if all this wasn't enough, after our last day of clinic and just when I was drinking in the relief of being delivered from the pit, a horrific traffic accident occurred a few hundred yards from our base. The causalities included 9 severely injured people. Soon our base was an ICU. Somehow the honor of being the first 4th-year medical student ever to establish and run an ICU was lost in the blood, the fractures, and the fatigue as I operated all night using only local anesthesia, but even the anesthesia ran out half way through. So I cut and sewed with none while many patients were too much in shock to even feel my knife. It was only by God's grace, and miracles, that every victim survived.
For our departure, Neto had organized a special church service to thank and honor us. He had prepared the people to bring something to give as a thanksgiving. We didn't know what was happening as he called us to take the place of honor in the front of this thatched-roof, mud-walled church. He said "Now it’s our turn to give to those who have given so much to us. Come forward and bring your offering of thanks to God for them!" I was overwhelmed with emotion as I saw the people come forward with joy in their hearts. Through my tears I saw an old woman; she looked ancient, all bent over with bare feet and leather skin. Her gift was a single egg that she placed on the mud altar. I saw a man using a makeshift crutch—necessary because a land mine had blown off his leg—bring a small coin. I saw a child bring the aluminum pop-top from a precious crushed soda can. They came by the hundreds bringing a banana here, a half a sweet potato there, a small coin all mixed with our tears. The money that was received during this offering amounted to 33 cents. It was too holy to ever spend and remains in our office to this day—a gift from the poorest of the poor.
Since then I have been on over 20 medical missions of mercy. I have seen over 100,000 people all over the world in the poorest and most desperate of circumstances, and now I work back in my old neighborhood, the poorest in my city, to do what I can to help. I have been exhausted and down to my last dollar too many times to count. I have been broken in so many ways and have cried more than a million tears. A reporter asked me recently "Dr Bob, surely you could have a great career as a physician, probably a big house, a nice car, and you wouldn't have to work half the hours you do. You're getting older, why do you do the things you do?" My reply: "for 33 cents."