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Medical Mission Meeting Needs in Nicaragua

Tuesday, Oct 07, 2014

Michel Chapnick, DO calls it "pure medicine" and the reason he went in to the medical profession in the first place.

After his first trip to the Dominican Republic several years ago, Michel Chapnick, DO contracted what he calls "medical mission-itis."

"You get the bug," said the Doylestown Hospital hospitalist who completed six medical missions to the Dominican Republic in the last decade. His last trip there was in 2012. Longing for another mission, about a year ago he contacted Mollie Covington, RN, CCRN, a nurse in Doylestown Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) who, through her church, had traveled to Nicaragua twice. The phone call ultimately resulted in plans for a medical mission to the tiny Central American nation.

In July, Dr. Chapnick and Mollie were part of a group of 21 who went to Nicaragua. The team included several Doylestown Hospital physicians and nurses as well as family members, some of them teenagers, and other lay people. During the weeklong trip, they saw about 900 people in makeshift medical clinics in remote mountain villages. They also helped complete a construction project to weatherproof a family's house.

"There is a need, somebody needs to go," said Mollie. "The people in the villages have very limited and restricted access to care. Some had never been out of their own village."

She had noticed a number of medical needs during her first two trips to Nicaragua. The villages lack clean water. The average laborer earns $36 a week.

Mollie worked with missionaries Eric and Wendy Harbison to arrange this summer's medical mission. The Charlotte, North Carolina couple moved to Matagalpa, a mountain town in Nicaragua, in 2012.

"These villagers had never had a medical team come to them," said Eric.

After a 90-minute bus ride through the mountains, the team arrived at the villages where the clinics were held. They saw infants through 90-year-olds, with villagers arriving dressed in their Sunday clothes. The team assessed basic medical needs, identified congenital disorders and tried to establish referrals for more specialized care when there was a serious issue.

The team distributed medicines and antibiotics donated by Doylestown Hospital. The Lions Club also donated 500 pairs of eyeglasses. Both Mollie and Dr. Chapnick remarked how appreciative the villagers were.

"This is pure medicine. You go down and see patients – that's what you do," said Dr. Chapnick. "It needs to be done. I feel like we can do a lot of good in a short period of time."

Throughout the trip, excellent native translators assisted the team. One of them, a young man named Wesley, aspires to go to medical school. Dr. Chapnick gave Wesley his stethoscope as a parting gift.

This fall, the team will regroup to explore the possibility of a return trip next year. "I think we're all excited to go back," Dr. Chapnick says.

"I would have like to have stayed longer," adds Mollie. "There are so many more needs."

"This is what we went into medicine for," says Dr. Chapnick. He described the shared sentiment on the trip: "At the end of the day, the reason we go into medicine is to help people, and this mission brought me back to that reason."

Continued Support

The goodwill did not end after the group returned home to Bucks County. Learning that Eric was in need of a surgical procedure, some of the team arranged for Eric and Wendy to come to Doylestown. Albert Ruenes, MD, urologist, donated his time to perform the surgery in August. "What a blessing the people here have been to us," said Eric, recuperating at Doylestown Hospital. After a few weeks stateside, the Harbisons were preparing to return to their home in Matagalpa in September. Dr. Ruenes has traveled to Africa annually since 2004 to teach African surgeons how to treat prostate cancer in men and incontinence in women. You can read about his experiences in a previous blog, Doylestown Hospital Surgeon Changing Lives in Africa.

Team Members:

  • Dr. Michel Chapnick
  • Rebecca and Alyssa Chapnick
  • Craig, Mollie and Paige Covington
  • Dr. Mitch Vernace
  • Adrianna Vernace
  • Dr. Eunha Kim
  • Dr. David L. Smith
  • Dr. Jill Kane
  • Natalie Nelson
  • Patti Wood
  • Pamela Clemmer
  • Karen Quinlan
  • Miriam Torres
  • Karen Cimino
  • Donna and Kiara Jacoby
  • Mark Linsalata
  • Nicholas Sloma

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