Friends of ONE Dr. John Forney, a physician, and his wife Amy, a physical therapist, recently spent a week in Uganda. They walked away with an unforgettable experience and impacted many lives in the process. We’re excited to share their story, in John’s words, with you today.
In August, my wife Amy and I were fortunate to travel to Uganda for a medical mission trip with Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI). PMI was founded with the vision to provide quality, sustainable health care to communities in the developing world.
At their project site in Masindi, Uganda, PMI has built Masindi-Kitara Medical Center, which offers 24-hour quality care at a low price. The medical center is fully staffed by Ugandans and is able to provide inpatient, outpatient, labor and delivery, and surgical care.
Through PMI’s model, the center is not dependent on donor’s funds for continued operations. PMI sends short-term medical teams to provide care to the more remote regions of northwest Uganda, thus augmenting the care the locals can receive.
Our team was comprised of 40 volunteers from many different professions. Doctors, nurses, medical students as well as many volunteers with no medical experience were all instrumental in the planning and execution of the mission.
Traveling to the sites was like going back in time. Villagers live in mud huts with thatched roofs, and many survive by growing their own crops including rice, corn, cassava and bananas. The makeshift clinics are set up in classrooms that lack electricity.
Hundreds of patients were waiting when we arrived, and many had traveled from great distances by motorcycle, bicycle or foot.
I was struck by how patient and tough the Ugandans were. They would wait many hours in the hot sun wearing their best clothes, yet we never heard any complaints.
While both the landscape and people were striking to take in, it was refreshing to practice medicine in such a different context and interact with the patients who came to my table.
Most of the conditions we treated were similar to the ones seen in the US such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, esophageal reflux and sexually transmitted diseases. We also treated many infections that I had never seen such as malaria, typhoid, schistosomiasis and mycetomas.
Many patients were referred to Masindi-Kitara Medical Center to receive surgical care for appendectomies, hernias, cholecystectomies and prolapsed uterus. Amy was able to fit many people who had deformities with splints and braces. She also supplied walkers to those who had difficulty walking, which enabled them to return to work to provide for their families.
I will never forget one woman who brought her grandchildren in for treatment. When I asked where their mother was, she replied that she had died of AIDS. In fact, all seven of this woman’s children had died from complications with the disease. She was now responsible for all of her grandchildren. I was thankful to provide small relief to her needs.
By the end of the week, word had spread of the medical care and the crowds were enormous - we had to turn away more than 400 people on the last day. In total, we were able to provide care to over 1,200 people. I will never forget how kind, humble and grateful the Ugandan people were.
While the time I spend with each patient was short-lived, I am thankful for PMI’s long-term approach to health care. I could leave Uganda confidently knowing that each of those patients still has access to quality, affordable health care and the chance at a healthier life.
This was truly the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had as a doctor, and it has motivated me to return to Africa to do all I can to help those in need.
Prior to his medical mission to Uganda, John and his wife Amy served on a medical mission to Guatemala in 2006.