Volunteer and Donor Spotlight
IMAHelps is blessed to have incredible volunteers and donors from many areas of Southern California and across the United States. Our supporters not only contribute to life-saving and life-changing work on our missions, but they make difference in the doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals where they work in the U.S. throughout the year. On this page, we share recent news developments involving our volunteers and donors to give you an idea of the kinds of people we have supporting us.
Thank you, Mr. Serfling!
Aubrey Serfling, President and CEO, Eisenhower Medical Center
Nearly a dozen IMAHelps volunteers, all medical professionals from Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, met with Eisenhower President and CEO Aubrey Serfling the first week of the new year to present him with a glass plaque to thank him for his support for our missions and for encouraging Eisenhower's doctors, surgeons, nurses and support staff to join us on humanitarian missions to Central and South America over the years. IMAHelps has been blessed to have more than a dozen volunteers from Eisenhower Medical Center on our missions during the past decade, including cardiologists, emergency room doctors, nurses and other support staff. We hope someday that Mr. Serfling can join us on a mission so that he can see for himself the miracles that his staff members perform as they volunteer on our missions.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes | source
The day he arrived in Luque, Paraguay for a medical mission with IMAHelps in July, Dr. Bhavesh Shah seriously considered going home. Shah is a locum tenens interventional gastroenterologist, and the team of over 100 had been sent to perform free surgeries and other procedures in the underserved area. But the hospital had never done an endoscopy before and the expected equipment for endoscopy hadn’t yet been delivered. Shah didn’t know how he could be of any use at the General Hospital of Luque.
He stayed, hopeful that conditions would improve, and the next day the endoscopy supplies arrived. The equipment was dated and additional equipment was not available- such as brushes to clean the scope, but Dr. Shah and Matias (who provided the equipment) nonetheless set up an endoscopy unit in under eight hours. They had just gotten everything set up when a member of the hospital staff came and told Dr. Shah about the little girl who would become his first and most memorable patient in Paraguay—a 19-month-old who had swallowed nail clippers.“She was actually scheduled for surgery later that day,” he said. Shah knew that an endoscopy was the answer for the tiny girl. “They had no access to endoscopy because none of the local government hospitals had the capability.” Usually, I would not have considered seeing a patient so young in the US, she would have seen a pediatric GI specialist.”
Dr. Shah evaluated the patient and she was prepped and he performed the endoscopy procedure, removing the nail clipper in five minutes. Her parents were overjoyed, because she had been saved from the ordeal of major surgery by the presence of a doctor with the right training and the right equipment. “The mom just broke down in tears,” he said. “I asked her where the other half of the nail cutter was, and she said at home, and he said to her, 'Please place it in the garbage.’”
Even though Dr. Shah speaks Spanish, communication was difficult during those tense moments because Shah was under pressure to successfully scope such a young child, the parents and the patient were nervous and the staff at the hospital was attempting to assist in procedure they had never seen performed before. But soon the little girl was back in her parent’s arms and word was spreading throughout the area about the case. The story attracted so much excitement that a local ABC News crew came out to interview Dr. Shah and hospital officials for a story.
“The endoscope is a flexible camera; it goes in through the mouth,” he said. “We perform that procedure regularly, but we're not usually removing foreign bodies, and if we do, it’s maybe a battery or a coin. But this nail cutter was large. I don't even know how she swallowed that. I’ve never done anything as dramatic as this case, and I doubt I ever will.”
“That girl was very lucky she was in the hospital while we were there, because she would have definitely had major surgery and undergone an exploratory laparotomy. There was absolutely no doubt.”
When the adrenaline of that scope had subsided a bit, Shah settled into a routine for the remainder of his time in Paraguay. In a week he scoped twenty-five different patients, and he also helped other physicians with procedures and assisted in the triage unit. The IMAHelps team included specialists in gastroenterology, gynecology, pediatrics, orthopedics, prosthetics, ophthalmology, dentistry, general medical clinic, cardiology, general surgery and reconstructive surgery- Dr. Shah was the only gastroenterologist on the team.
All told, the team of 102 who traveled to Luque treated more than 800 patients a day, and people traveled from miles away and started lining up outside the hospital at 2 a.m., in a huge tent the hospital erected as a de facto waiting room, to ensure that they would be seen. “I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Shah said.
It was a tremendously gratifying experience for Shah, who plans to return to Paraguay next summer. But he knows that without his locum tenens position, he would find it very difficult to participate in such a mission. The most evident benefit for a locum tenens physician who wishes to practice medicine overseas is the flexibility. If Shah had been employed in a traditional full-time capacity, he would have either been unable to take enough days off for the trip or would have been forced to jump back into work immediately after he returned.
"There are people who use their whole year's vacation from their permanent jobs to do this trip, but I'll tell you as a Medical Director in a hospital and GI director in a cancer center (his previous position) it would have been very difficult to do this,” Shah said. “I probably wouldn't have done it, actually. There's no way I could have done it without having a flexible schedule. To take ten to twelve days off from a position like I had means that you get back on a Sunday, and you're definitely working Monday, after a fifteen-hour flight coming back.”
Instead of being forced to jump through scheduling hoops, Shah simply told his locum tenens agency, Alliance Recruiting Resources, that he wanted to join the IMAHelps group and they planned his assignments around it, leaving ample time at the beginning and the end of the trip for preparation and recovery. “It was the easiest thing ever, so I’m definitely going to go back next year if I can,” he said.
Beyond the more obvious scheduling advantages, Shah is convinced that his time in locum tenens posts have helped make him into the type of nimble, adaptable doctor that can perform well in less-than-desirable or unfamiliar conditions. He knew when he arrived in Paraguay and learned the endoscopy equipment hadn’t arrived that he wasn’t in a typical environment, but as the days passed he enjoyed the challenge of working toward the best patient results despite shortages and lack of familiarity with the facility, the staff and the culture.
“I think that the mindset you need to have when you enter the locums market, helps you if you're in a situation where you don't have your normal staff, you don't have your normal equipment and you’re in a different place,” he said. “Everything is just so different but it just helps you function under different circumstances. “It’s a new country, new food, new hospital, you’ve never worked with the staff before, but at the end of the day it's about the patient, right?”
IMAHelps is a California-based non-profit with a mission to offer more than a dozen medical, surgical and dental specialties on its trips to underserved areas. Doctors volunteer their time and pay their travel costs to serve in hospitals in locations like El Salvador, Nicaragua, China, India, Ecuador and Peru. In a typical trip to South America or Latin America, the agency will deliver between $3 million and $4 million of surgeries and other medical and dental services and see more than 5,000 patients.