Akron Children’s Hospital staff are known for their talent and caring nature, but when 4 of its own unknowingly signed up to volunteer at the same medical mission trip, even they were surprised.
“My daughter is a nursing student so she and I decided to go on a medical mission trip together,” said Heidi Sammons, a medical assistant at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in New Philadelphia. “I work with Dr. (Melissa) Houser but didn’t know she was going until after I signed up and, while we were there, we made the connection that 2 others (Kristin Cole and Lisa Broerman) from Akron Children’s had chosen the same trip, too.”
The group traveled to Durres, Albania, with Medical Missions Outreach, which partners with local churches in developing countries and offers free medical, dental and vision care to people who wouldn’t normally have access to these services.
Heidi, who’s been a medical assistant for 28 years, originally signed up for the trip thinking she’d be with the medical team.
“I knew about and planned for this trip for almost a year,” said Heidi. “The Saturday we set up the clinic in Albania we found out what our jobs would be for the week. I was shocked when my name was called to help the dental team. The dental group really needed help…it was awesome to use my talents in a new field and I learned so much in the process.”
During 4 days at the clinic, the group helped treat more than 2,400 individuals with a team of 40 providers. Dr. Houser and Kristin Cole, RN, spent time in the medical clinic, while Lisa Broerman, a licensed social worker, spent time in the vision clinic.
“We saw adults and children with everything from minor aches and pains to individuals suffering from undiagnosed cancer,” said Lisa, a social worker at Akron Children’s center for diabetes and endocrinology as well as the healthy weight clinic. “We also treated children with rotting teeth to those whose eyes were so bad they would be blind without glasses.”
Each day people lined up and spent hours waiting to get into the clinic, even in the 100 degree heat.
“Many people had to choose between going to work that day or bringing their child or elderly parent to the clinic and risk losing a day’s wages,” Lisa said. “As the people walked out of the clinic, many with glasses for the first time or with a prescription for a medication, we could tell the wait was worth it to them as they smiled and thanked us.”
The group worked with interpreters at the clinic to help explain medical conditions and what to do after the visit.
“Most of the children we saw had a mouth full of infection, but there was a beautiful little girl about 6-8 years old who was so bad she had a fistula (an abnormal channel leading between two cavities or surfaces which drains fluid) on her neck full of infection,” said Heidi. “When we tried removing her tooth, infection oozed out of her neck and mouth so we had to stop because her jaw bone was compromised from all the infection. She was put on an antibiotic and asked to come back… When she came back, by God’s grace, the tooth came out with ease and didn’t need to be cut in half. This little girl came back 3 days in a row and had a tooth pulled every time yet she always had a smile on her face … By the last day her neck and mouth had improved! She and her mom couldn’t hug and kiss us enough! They were so thankful.”
For the Albanian families who were fortunate to receive care from the group, it is life changing – from living with less pain to literally seeing the world in a whole new way with the help of corrective lenses.
“Doing this type of work truly opens your eyes to what we take for granted here and it opens your heart in a way nothing else can,” Lisa said.