Volunteer: Brian Garnet

Volunteer
  • During:

    2010

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Bicol Clinic Foundation, Inc.
Philippines, 2011

Approaching Buena Vista in the Bicol region of the Philippines is a revelation. As you ride over the crest of a hill from any direction, whether on the back of a trike or on the roof of a Jeepny, you witness a dense forest of coconut trees sitting on the edge of an expansive bay across from the massive and active volcano, Bulusan. Once you get over the beauty of the view, you start to experience the beauty of the people of Bicol. Rural and isolated from the more modern international city of Manila, the people in Bicol are friendly, welcoming and overflowing with joy. Of all of the places I've been fortunate enough to travel to, no place is as beautiful as Bicol in its natural gifts and the personality and character of the people who live there.

Bicol is also the most impoverished place I've ever visited. While people are always happy, tragedy is always lurking around the corner. In Bicol a man is happy to live a simple life that revolves around work and enjoying his family and community. But what if that man's son were to be born with a birth defect. Congenital birth defects are common and are readily treated in the developed world. In Bicol, nobody has health insurance or savings. The way people deal with medical tragedy is to sell everything they can to get money to afford a life saving treatment. They face an impossible choice between selling their means of providing for their family, like their boat, or letting their loved one suffer and possibly die. We hear about these stories in the US as part of the debate for universal health care. In the US there are shocking stories of families forced to declare bankruptcy because they can't afford their medical bills. Eventually they lose their house and all their savings. In the rural areas of the Philippines, the hospital won't provide the health care and hope to collect the money later. If a family can't come up with the money up front for anesthesia, surgical supplies, medicine, hospital stay, they never get the treatment they need. For people in Bicol, this isn't the rare exception, it's the rule.

Throughout the first two years of my medical education I was taught about every disease, and shown the natural history, or the kinds of ways a disease will affect someone if no treatment was ever given. I was told time and again that these are historical examples, and that I would never see the kinds of horrific complications that may occur at the end of a disease because in America we treat common diseases so they never progress to that point. At the end of my 1st and 2nd year of medical school, I went to the Philippines and witnessed daily the exact symptoms I was told nobody has seen in America for half a century.

The work that Dr. Schuster and the Bicol Clinic Foundation have been doing in the Philippines is so vital to the community around the clinic. In the two months I spent there I witnessed simple acts that will prevent medical tragedy for families. We treated a laceration on a man's foot so he won't end up with a chronic infection and require an amputation. We treated countless children with strep throat so they won't be at risk of developing rheumatic fever and developing heart disease later in their life. We were able to provide a few hundred American dollars at a crucial moment to get a woman into the OR for a c-section saving both her and her baby's lives. The opportunity to contribute to the Bicol Clinic foundation is unique because it's a small organization that provides money directly to where it's needed most in a community.

Brian Garnet
University of Miami
Medical Student

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