Palm Beach County health care workers travel to help heal in some of the world's poorest parts

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, August 15, 2009

WEST PALM BEACH — This West Palm Beach nurse can't help everyone.

But she's determined to try.

That's why she treks to Cambodia every summer and sees children and adults whose bellies are empty and whose faces are thin. They're dying of malnutrition, dehydration, diseases that they probably wouldn't die from here in the United States.

Regina Clark, a nurse manager at Columbia Hospital, is one of many hospital staff members who spend their summer vacations not relaxing by the beach, but working in remote countries. They've dedicated their lives to helping the sick in America, and now they're taking their mission overseas.

"There were some that we know won't live long enough to get the help, and that's what breaks your heart," Clark, 53, said of the people in Cambodia.

That's how it is across the globe, in poor villages where doctors are scarce and modern medicines don't exist. So Clark and many other local nurses and doctors have committed themselves to helping each year.

Mission through music

Clark and 31 others traveled to Cambodia in July with a group called Musicianaries International - a nonprofit ministry dedicated to spreading God's love through music.

The group - which included doctors, nurses and professional musicians - delivered more than 500,000 containers of medicine, 700 school uniforms, 2,700 toothbrushes and toothpaste, 295 mosquito nets and 330 tons of rice.

They traveled the country in vans and spent time by the borders along Thailand and Vietnam. Their goal? To see people who have never been to hospitals.

"They're such a starving population. The average age is about 22," said Clark, who was on her third summer trek as a volunteer. "There's such a need for medical care."

Common medical problems include malnutrition, skin rashes, eye conditions and dehydration. Yet they still manage to smile.

"The people ... they warm your hearts," she said.

"You don't have to be fluent in the language to know they welcome anything. It's a great feeling."

Educating the islanders

While Clark headed for Cambodia, Dr. Michael Wolford traveled to the island of Tanna off the east coast of Australia. He was in the South Pacific with a group called Healthcare Ministries, a worldwide medical outreach program of Assemblies of God World Missions.

Wolford, 44, is an emergency room physician at Columbia Hospital and Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

In Tanna, he found many children suffering from malnutrition and ringworm or tapeworm.

He talked to the people through a translator about healthy living, encouraging them to take better care of themselves.

For almost three weeks, Wolford treated many men for high blood pressure and others for skin problems.

Because the island is primarily jungle, most who live there use machetes.

"It was unbelievable to see 5- and 6-year-olds swinging around machetes," he said.

Wolford said he enjoys showing people that there are others in this world who care about them.

"I've been blessed with talents I can share with people," he said, "and there's a world of people who need help."

Helping in Haiti

When his cousin died 10 years ago of liver cancer, Dr. Serge Thys wanted to keep his memory alive.

So he and others created the Gaskov Clerge Foundation, named after his cousin, with goals that include helping the sick in Les Cayes, Haiti, where Clerge and Thys were born.

Thys, 56, is the chairman of the psychiatric department at Columbia Hospital and also medical director of youth services.

This month, he returned from a trip to the southern part of Haiti where people have no access to any form of health care.

He and more than 60 of his colleagues built makeshift clinics in churches and schools and saw almost 3,000 people.

Like Clark and Wolford, Thys vows to continue his travel each year.

"It's priceless," Thys said. "You end up receiving much more than you give. This is the most beautiful part."


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