Each day, children, parents, spouses, siblings, and friends patiently wait until their names are called. The screening process for walk-ins takes place right outside of the hospital entrance due to lack of hospital space. Some come with having had unsuccessful surgeries in the past, while others have the experience of being turned down by other medical missions because they lacked specialists. Families traveled from far distances – some by boat – just to be seen by the WSF doctors. Whatever background they have, they all come with one thing in common: today, they are ready for a change.
I spoke with several patients in the waiting area to better understand what brought them to the WSF mission. Most cited hearing about the medical trip via word of mouth, such as their doctor, a neighbor, and/or a friend. Municipal town meetings from their local government officials, as well as media outlets like a recent TV announcement were also mentioned. Many came with conditions that they have been living with for 3-19 years – for children, this was all they knew. They also mentioned their gratitude for the specialists on this medical mission because of their inability to pay for surgery. Marilyn, a 32-year old mother of 2, came to have a goiter removed. She was pre-screened last week so that she could have her surgery done on the first day of the mission. She said, “I can’t afford this surgery on my own, which costs 150,000 pesos according to my doctor. I have two sons, and I just had to pay for my own son’s foot surgery. No money left for me. This mission is my turn.” Juvila, a 19-year old female born with a singular cleft lip, was contacted by a friend that the mission was coming. A native of the Palawan area, she told us that she was not nervous at all. In fact, she was excited because “it was time.” She walked in today without being pre-screened, but Dr. David Leber reviewed her case and told her that he could help. It was amazing to see the excitement on her and her mother’s eyes that a lifelong condition was about to change today. Another patient, Anabelle, a 58-year old mother of 4 children, came for a perotidectomy of the face. Having had the tumor for 15 years, she mentioned that this is her 4th attempt to have it removed. She had been looking for a specialist since she has been living in Palawan for 10 years, one that she could afford. Like all other patients I met, she repeated how thankful she was to WSF for this opportunity.
I also heard from Fernando, a 39-year old male who traveled a long distance from Busuanga (the other side of the island) to Coron. Fernando learned about the WSF mission from his own doctor, who told him that specialists were coming that could help him with his condition. He had been turned down by other missions in the past, so this was his chance. Fernando was diagnosed with a right inguinal hernia connected to urological issues – a painful condition he has had for 7 years. He, too, conveyed his gratitude to the WSF for this ability to be treated.
I later learned that all the patients I had the privilege to speak with went home with successful recoveries. What I saw first-hand today was that the accessibility to quality healthcare that many of us are so used to at home – what may be a phone call, a short drive, or a line at the doctor’s office away – is a rare gift for the lives that WSF touches.