Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00
In May, I packed my bags, boarded a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and was officially Peru-bound. I first landed in Lima, and then continued on to the city of Cusco. From Cusco I was bussed into the Andes Mountains to a village called Incahuasi, where I stayed in a farmhouse for four days. The Incahuasi District is one of six districts of the province Ferrenafe in Peru. The majority of its population of under 15,000 speaks Inkawasi-Kanaris Quechua.
Our accommodations at the farmhouse mirrored the stark realities faced by the Incahuasi people: lack of heat, despite temperatures often dipping into the 30s in the evenings, intermittent electricity, no hot water, no real showers and limited bathroom facilities. This agricultural area was also home to cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, and many dogs. Nothing like Woodbury, Long Island.
My Flying Doctors team, consisting of four dentists, five physicians, three nurses, seven additional volunteers of various backgrounds, and translators, bonded quickly. I was in good company -- since Flying Doctors is 100% volunteer, each of these professionals had paid their own way to Peru, borne out of a desire to provide services to people who otherwise would never receive professional medical care.
Since none of the villages have existing medical facilities, each morning, we were taken to a different village to set up our clinic. The first two days we set up in local schools; the third day we were in the Town Hall. We set up our makeshift clinic in tents or in the school classrooms, using only the dental and medical supplies we’d brought with us from the U.S.
During our short stay, our team treated close to 1,000 people, with the Dental team treating almost 400 patients. While both adults and children lined up, we saw mostly children. Being the only pediatric dentist, I had the pleasure of treating the majority of the kids.
Due to our location and supplies we were limited to only dental extractions. Our goal was to be able to provide at least temporary relief from pain, but in addition to the medical treatment, we wanted to provide education on taking preventative measures. We stressed the importance of home care and taught basic dental health, hoping this would help the children learn how to prevent toothaches in the future.
The Peruvians I met were in a word: amazing. My experience working with them was life-changing. Spending time with these proud, hard working people was extremely humbling and it’s increased my desire to bring awareness to the lack of infrastructure and healthcare resources in these remote regions.
For those of you who are willing and able, I highly recommend this experience. The benefits far outweigh any time or money you’ll spend on the venture. I’ve already informed my team leader that I look forward to another mission next year, perhaps working in the Amazon in Ecuador.
For more than 20 years, Flying Doctors of America has been bringing together physicians, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, other health professionals, and non-medical support volunteers to care for people who do not have access to professional medical care. The group operates under the “Mother Teresa Principle,” focusing on the poorest of the poor who live in conditions that are difficult for most Americans to imagine.
Dr. Douglas Schildhaus
Pediatric dentist in Woodbury