December 11, 2015

Mission trip offers chance to share God’s transforming love

By John Shaughnessy

Virginia MaherShe keeps coming back, despite the horror she has seen and the heartbreak she has felt.

What draws her and the others back, she says, is that “our lives and hearts are changed by their faith, resilience, joy and suffering.”

In those words, Virginia Maher offers an insight into the experience of nearly everyone who has ever gone on a medical mission trip in the hope of making a difference in the lives of people who desperately need health care.

It’s certainly the experience that Maher had during a recent journey to the Dominican Republic—the third mission trip she has made to that country in the Caribbean.

“This place has caused our team such extreme anguish, agony and grief over the past three years,” says Maher, a member of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Indianapolis who made the mission trip with a group from the University of Indianapolis. “Yet this year, the public hospital was also the source of glimpses of humanitarian actions and hints of change which gave us cause for joy and hope.”

A touching moment of humanity occurred shortly after the Indianapolis team instructed the local staff in how to provide care and comfort when babies are dying.

“On our first morning there, our team witnessed a severely pre-term baby—who would have survived in most other countries—who was left alone to die in a hospital room,” recalls Maher, a certified nurse-midwife. “That day, we brought his mom to hold her son. [And when the mom left for the day] we witnessed a nurse holding the hand of that dying baby, no longer alone.”

Another memorable, more joyful moment developed from a situation that initially seemed hopeless. The moment involved a mother of four, who was hemorrhaging after an operation.

“Her anesthesiologist threw up his hands in surrender after an emergency hysterectomy stopped the bleeding, but could not replace her massive blood loss,” Maher recalls.

“Her husband, in heartbreaking desperation, was denied blood products because he could not afford them. Yet this woman was alive the next day, saved by our team’s purchase of three units of blood on a day that we just happened to be in the Dominican Republic’s public hospital.”

Maher also witnessed a change that offered hope.

“There was the changing attitude of the public hospital administration and staff, who three years ago initially refused our team’s entry to their facility. This year, they welcomed us to participate in births, and to demonstrate kinder and safer birth techniques.

“They seemed to be soaking up examples of more humane care in their interactions with patients—who are typically Haitians, who live in poverty, and whose husbands and male relatives work long, hot days in the sugar cane fields for meager wages.”

During the mission trip, the medical team performed 26 surgeries and 69 Pap smears, and assisted with childbirth, post-partum and post-operation care. The group also distributed shoes and soccer balls, and provided health education to more than 200 people.

It was all part of an experience where heartbreak and hope were always just a moment away.

“In the face of the best and the worst of these human experiences, our team cried, consoled, laughed and hoped together,” Maher says.

“The lasting impact that this experience had for me is that our team could have been immobilized and demoralized by such extremely tragic circumstances and utterly shocking conditions. Rather, we were emboldened to act in ways that literally saved a life, comforted and cared for many, and allowed us to share God’s love and to experience the transformation of that love in a real way.” †

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