Medical mission trips extend help to those in need
Sometimes, compassion means business.
When Dr. R. Daniel Jacob and several other local doctors got together with businessman Fred Mikill in 2002, they were looking for the most effective way to share their healing talents in South and Latin American countries with little access to life-changing surgeries.
But they needed a business structure to make the healing work happen. Jacob, a head and neck surgeon, had just come off a frustrating mission experience in which logistical challenges limited the amount of time he could do surgery.
That’s when he turned to Mikill, a friend who had retired from Pan American Life and someone familiar dealing with the logistics in South America.
From that initial step, New Orleans Medical Mission Services (NOMMS) was founded, and in a little more than a decade, the group has made 22 mission trips, most to Ecuador and Nicaragua, providing 1,185 surgeries, including neurosurgery, and 18,000 eye exams.
Along with Jacob, the founding doctors were Dr. Thomas Kennedy, an obstetrician-gynecologist; Dr. John Montz, orthopedic surgeon; and Dr. Robert Normand, general surgeon.
“Dan was saying he wasn’t going to do any more missions,” Mikill said. “That’s when I said, ‘I’m retired, and I’ll do the business side and you do the medical side,’ and that was the beginning.”
The original vision of NOMMS was to do one mission trip a year, using about four doctors and 20 nurses, trying to keep the structure small so that supplies could be managed. As more people in the medical field heard about the trips, Mikill said the vision expanded, requiring the group to find bigger warehouse space to keep the donated supplies and equipment needed for each trip.
NOMMS now does three trips a year, the latest a one-week visit to Nicaragua, where 12 total knee replacements and 22 gynecological surgeries were scheduled. During the year, high school students and other volunteers help sort and box supplies that are donated from medical supply companies and local doctors.
“Anything that can no longer be used here they will donate to us,” Mikill said.
The medical professionals feel compelled to give back because of their Christian faith, Mikill said.
“It’s a recognition that you have a desire to help others,” said Mikill, a parishioner at St. Clement of Rome in Metairie. “That’s a common thread – I’ve been blessed and I need to pay back or I need a personal tuneup in my own life. If you are a Christian, then we have an obligation to help others. I don’t see that as a choice.”
Equipment or supplies not needed for medical mission trips are sent to other hospitals in Latin American countries. Those going on the mission trips volunteer their services and pay a fee to defray trip’s cost. NOMMS holds fund-raisers to continue its operations, which cost $250,000 a year.
NOMMS will hold its Mission Possible 2013 Gala June 28 at Generations Hall. A patron party will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the gala, with cocktails, dining and silent and live auction, will run from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Individual tickets are $65.
For more information, call Edna Centola at 392-1934 or go to www.nomms.org.