Working in different countries but with a common goal, Riverside's Linda Mitchell, FNP, and Teresa Williams, FNP, enjoy living the Riverside Care Difference on their medical mission trips.

In February, the two family nurse practitioners traveled to Honduras and Haiti, respectively, coming to the aid of more than 1,200 people in need of quality medical care –and more.

"In some countries, even the most basic medical care is a luxury that is unfortunately out of reach for many people," said Esther Desimini, Vice President and Administrator of Riverside Tappahannock Hospital. "Thankfully, kind and selfless people like Linda and Teresa are willing to lend a hand, on their own time, to help improve the lives of others. They personify the idea of taking the Riverside Mission—to care for other as we would care for those we love--worldwide, and we are proud to support them."

Providing critical medical care needs for many
For Mitchell, who practices in Riverside's King William Medical Center, February's mission placed her in the northern Honduras city of San Pedroa Sula, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

"We had two armed guards with us at all times," said Mitchell, a veteran of 15 medical mission tours, explaining that "it was actually the safest and best organized (mission trip), with lots of supplies," thanks to Friends of Barnabas, the mission's organizing sponsor.Honduras Mission Team

And their risk had a major reward –touching the lives of so many grateful men, women and children.Over the course of five days, Mitchell and other nurses and doctors on the 16-person team saw more than 1,100 Honduran people, treating them for a variety of illnesses and conditions.

Mitchell's group trekked to different villages, operating dental and vision clinics, as well as de-worming and vitamin stations. They treated everything from stomach issues to skin conditions and large number of cataracts, Mitchell said, since residents of the tropical country do not wear sunglasses.

One incident in particular drove home the impact of her group's mission, when a machete accident victim came to the clinic with major lacerations and a severed finger. In the U.S., an ambulance ride or a trip the emergency room is a given in such circumstances.

"But with only two hospitals in the entire country, we had to sew that up ourselves," said Mitchell. Would she do it again? "We're going back next February!"

From clinics to classrooms
For Teresa Williams, a nurse practitioner with Riverside's Warsaw Medical Arts, February's medical mission to Haiti –her second trip in the past four months –gave her the chance to expand her support to include education.

"All children deserve access to quality health care as well as education," Williams said.

Working with newly established non-profit Hope United Haiti, Williams' mission trip included helping build a new school outside Port-au-Prince, with the facility expected to open later this year with classes for grades one and two.

"All children, no matter their age, will (now) get to go to first and second grade –even older kids," said Willams. "Everyone deserves an education."Haiti Mission

While education was a highlight of this trip, Williams also still enjoys bringing her medical background to Haiti and working in the makeshift clinics, which spurred her original interest in medical missions. The February trip was her second mission working alongside "Loving Haiti, One Child at a Time," a non-profit founded by Leah Peyton, a nurse practitioner student who had been completing her rotation at Warsaw Medical Arts.

Williams says that in some cases, clinics are held in pole shed-style enclosures using tin roofs and tarps, with sheets tied off to make cubicles offering a modicum of privacy.

"We set up a pharmacy in one corner, and patients in the middle on a dirt floor," said Williams.

Williams said that on the first day of her February trip she saw more than 70 patients in a four-hour period, including an elderly lady with pneumonia.

"She was the sickest little lady," said Williams. "But fortunately, I had one Z-Pak antibiotic left."

Williams stressed that having sufficient medical supplies is key to a successful mission trip, which rely on generous financial and material donations provided by her Riverside colleagues, Riverside Health System, and members of her hometown community. The donations may seem so little here at home, Williams said, but they go a long way in Haiti.

"The conditions are so difficult for them, it's like a different world," Williams said, highlighting one woman in particular she worked with.

The patient, she said, was suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which left her extremely uncomfortable at night. Through a translator, Williams suggested the woman try to elevate the head of her bed. But the woman made a strange face.

"It turns out that the woman did not have a bed, so she slept on the floor," said Williams. "And she was so embarrassed to have to say that."

Williams will return to Haiti in August and again in November, eager to get back before the new school opens. Class will start in tents at the opening, with a finished schoolhouse building expected to open by 2019.

Everyone can help
The community is welcome to help support future medical missions for Riverside staff with tax-deductible donations.

To donate to the Friends of Barnabas Foundation, the organizer of Linda Mitchell's mission, visit https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1438384. To donate to "Loving Haiti, One Child at a Time," the non-profit who supported Teresa Williams' mission, visit https://www.gofundme.com/94uwo8.

Published: May 15, 2017