By Kim Plummer Krull
The day after one Mercy Medical Team (MMT) returned from leading first-ever, much-needed diabetes education seminars requested by the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, another group of quickly organized medical volunteers headed to Haiti to answer an urgent plea to treat a deadly cholera outbreak.
“This is a small team we quickly pulled together when we got an emergency request from [Rev.] Willy Gaspar,” said Maggie Karner, director of Life and Health Ministries with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), referring to the emergency MMT that departed July 10 to serve at an overwhelmed hospital in Belladere, on the border near the Dominican Republic.
Gaspar, whose ordination earlier this year made him the first pastor in the emerging Dominican Republic Lutheran Mission, alerted WR-HC about the need. “The hospital’s doctor was killed in a riot, and they were very short staffed. They had become overwhelmed by the cholera outbreak and had to close the hospital doors,” Karner said. “The day Pastor Gaspar went to evaluate the situation, three people died.”
Six people served on the emergency MMT, led by Jacob Fiene, manager, Medical/Material Resources with WR-HC. All the volunteers are medical professionals who previously served on emergency MMTs sent by WR-HC to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, Karner said.
This time, the MMT responded to resurgence in the cholera epidemic, triggered by Haiti’s rainy season. The disease has killed some 4,500 Haitians through severe diarrhea and dehydration since the epidemic began in October 2010, according to news reports.
The emergency MMT is part of WR-HC’s three-fold strategy in helping Haitians fight cholera, which includes preventative education and the distribution of water filters. Personal-sized water filters are being distributed through the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and the Lutheran Church of Haiti, with funding made possible by a WR-HC grant.
Commercial-sized filters are being installed in five Lutheran schools in Haiti, with funding from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, according to Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, WR-HC’s director of Disaster Response.
For information about the opportunity to provide a Haitian family with a “ceramic pot” filter for $30, visit www.lcms.org/haiticleanwater or call WR-HC at 800-248-1930, ext. 1380.
On Aug. 6, a previously scheduled MMT leaves for Haiti to serve at one of four medical clinics purchased and located in regional areas last year by WR-HC in collaboration with the two Haitian Lutheran church bodies. Mike Mieritz, a pharmacist, MMT veteran and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Oshkosh, Wis., will lead the team, which will serve at the clinic with the greatest need, Karner said.
At the world’s ‘diabetes center’
The emergency MMT returned July 16 from Haiti, a week after another group of MMT volunteers returned from leading diabetes education seminars in India.
“Diabetes is a silent killer, and India is now known as the diabetes center of the world. More people are diagnosed with diabetes there than in any other country,” said Karner, who headed the MMT to India. The team presented daylong seminars at two hospitals operated by the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) in Ambur and Malappuram and the Lutheran seminary in Nagercoil.
Genetics predispose many Indians to diabetes, Karner said, plus lifestyle changes have contributed to the disease incidence. IELC leaders “wanted to be a positive force in educating people on how they can manage the disease and can make lifestyle changes to keep it under control,” Karner said. “This is a way for the church to make an impact in the community in a positive way.”
The MMT volunteers teaching the education sessions are all registered nurses: LCMS Parish Nurse Coordinator Marcia Schnorr; Carolyn Holbird, a member of First Lutheran Church, Tahlequah, Okla.; and Hilke Schirmer, a member of Madison Lutheran Church, Madison, Conn.
More than 230 people took part in the seminars, including laypeople, hospital staff and Lutheran pastors who want to help promote a healthy lifestyle.
“The workshops were filled with a very diverse group of people, including many Muslims and Hindus,” Karner said.
The sessions opened with prayer and were presented “within a Christian framework,” Karner said. “This was a wonderful opportunity for the IELC and the hospitals to display the fact that Christ loves everyone, and that we care about all people, body and soul, no matter who they are.”
IELC President Rev. J. Samuel and Ravi Jesupatham, India country coordinator with WR-HC, also participated in the seminars. Schnorr met with Samuel about his interest in starting a parish nurse ministry in the IELC. Plans already are in the works for an MMT to return to India next July.
All medical professionals willing to work in basic primary care situations are needed for upcoming MMT trips, Karner says, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and emergency medical technicians. Pastors and hard-working adult laity also are needed. In addition to the MMT returning to Haiti in August, other future trips include:
- Madagascar, Oct. 6-16,
- Kenya, Nov. 8-20,
- Madagascar, March 2012,
- Haiti, May 2012,
- Kenya, June 2012,
- India, July 2012,
- Madagascar, August 2012, and
- Kenya, November 2012.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted July 22, 2011