You could say the enthusiasm for a recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic (through Medical Ministries International) was infectious among Newton Medical Center surgical staff — starting with the involvement of Dr. Emily Webb and spreading from there.
Webb had participated in a similar trip during her residency. Running into some former staff she worked with as a resident at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, she was alerted to this most recent opportunity — and quickly contacted her surgical partner, Dr. Kevin Miller, about taking part in this mission.
"Doing a mission trip is very much getting back to the core of taking care of patients and helping patients, and these are patients who really would not get this care if people didn't go down on these medical trips and do this," Webb said. "It's very much getting back to the core of why I went into medicine in the first place."
Once Miller was on board, Webb knew they would need help applying anesthesia for the surgeries they would be performing in the Dominican Republic, so she talked to NMC nurse anesthetist Jeff Hanson about joining them on the mission. Hearing that discussion, operating room nurse Ariel Smith and surgical technician Marcos Campos were also eager to help out.
The team of NMC staff (and other mission participants) spent eight days in the Dominican Republic last month, operating for five days straight. Due to limited resources, on top of a suitcase each staff member also traveled with a 20-gallon tub of medical supplies so they could furnish (and set up) the operating rooms — of which there were two, with three beds between them, at the hospital the mission doctors went to help.
Members of the NMC staff were assigned to the room with one bed, which Webb admitted was a little more calm and laid back, and getting to work together was a benefit.
"It was awesome to go as a team of the five of us, and they actually put the five of us together in that one operating room," Webb said. "Somebody as a joke put a sign on the outside of the door that side 'Newton South.'"
“The team and the people we worked with were incredible. We were all there for one reason — to help the Dominicans and to serve in God’s purpose,” Hansen said. “Our team was united as one — surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, scrub techs and general helpers.”
Specializing in gynecology, most of the surgeries performed by the NMC staff centered on hysterectomies and tubal ligations — a big deal given the rate of child birth in the country — though they also assisted with general surgeries (gall bladders, hernias, etc.) as needed. In total, just shy of 100 major/minor surgeries were performed on the mission trip. For comparison, it was reported that NMC averages 90 surgical procedures — including orthopaedic, endoscopic, plastic and other specialties — among its five operating rooms in a week.
Given the issues most Dominicans face (lack of consistent health care, fundamental resources like clean water and electricity, etc.), it was clear to Webb how much impact this mission trip had. While surgical staff had to battle some of the same issues — like having to restart the anesthesia machine in the middle of a surgery or using phone flashlights as a light source — patients were lined up for surgeries each morning when the teams arrived, taking any assistance they could get.
"We had one case that the patient walked into the operating room and, in the process of (her) climbing on the table, electricity went out and we were in the total dark," Webb said. "It was fine with her; she climbed right up on the table, she was used to not having electricity."
Prior to each surgery, Webb and the NMC staff prayed with each patient — a very meaningful experience to her and something she admitted she has brought back from the trip. For all staff, they said they were glad to have the chance to go on this mission to the Dominican Republic and help those in need.
“The best part of this trip was that we got to do something that we love — surgery — for people who don’t have access to consistent health care,” Campos said. “And the people were so welcoming and kind. They treated us like family.”
"You get back as much as you give," Webb said, "and it's very fulfilling to take some time out of your normal, everyday routine and go help impact other people, make their world a better place."