They're calling it an experience of a lifetime, one that opens their eyes, minds and hearts. A Tallahassee medical team has traveled the distance all the way to Haiti, healing and treating the poor. Our own Jennifer Ryan was invited to document the group's work.
Thirteen volunteers from Tallahassee with diverse professional backgrounds have one similar passion; they want to make a difference in people's lives.
When Dr. Woodie Smith offered to take the group on a medical mission to Haiti, eye's lit up and the rest is history. Beyond the congestion and squalor of Haiti's capital city, Port Au Prince, lies a road less traveled, one that's rotted and weathered down, a challenging passage that villagers have to travel for the chance to be healed.
Much like the bumps in the road, Haitians face obstacles each day, obstacles they can overcome with proper medical attention.
“The most difficult part is seeing people with infections that have become life threatening. Had they been seen in the United States they could have been treated early on and not even have a scar,” says Andrea Williams, a Tallahassee volunteer.
Cleaning up scars, wounds and infections is their job. Andrea Williams and 12 of her teammates are on a mission: heal up to 1,000 villagers in five days. It's a concept that evolved almost two decades ago. Tallahassee doctors set up shop in this impoverished town, proving a little help goes a long way.
“Since I was a little boy, I've known in my heart, I've always wanted to do something like this,” says Dr. Woodie Smith, team leader.
They call him Dr. Woodie, medicine man. He's the heart of this operation, a Tallahassee doctor who found a team of nurses and volunteers to share in his dream restore the village of Dumay. He trains his team to examine patients, run a pharmacy and comfort those in need.
“They all have different chemistry, personalities, but somehow they all gel and we work well together,” Dr. Woodie says.
Patients crowd the doors with desperate eyes as they patiently wait their turn. Some need nothing more than Tums or Tylenol, others can't be helped. All of them walk away with something, a little soap, shampoo, even toothpaste. It's enough to brighten their day.
“The people expect so little and seem so happy. I just think I'll look at everything different. I won't complain about a headache ever again, I promise!” says Terese Coombs, a Tallahassee volunteer.
Headaches seem insignificant in a country ravaged by disease, where medical care is only offered to those with cash. It's a way of life for the poor majority, making these medical missions critical in their eyes.
Dr. Woodie travels to Dumay with a different team every summer. This last team is unique because of the medical minds on board.