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Team Takes St. Luke’s Mission to Honduras and Across the Globe

By Roya Camp, News and Community
May 24, 2016

Many St. Luke’s Health System physicians and employees are generous with their time and talents and give back in numerous ways, including serving others in disadvantaged countries. Families also get involved, and for an upcoming medical trip, the granddaughters of the head of St. Luke’s Heart have agreed to send regular reports! Here is more from my blog editor, Roya Camp.

- David C. Pate, M.D., J.D.

Follow the St. Luke’s team on its upcoming care trip to Honduras! Trip participants Maslyn and Davis Pessner, granddaughters of St. Luke’s Heart Executive Medical Director Dr. Marshall Priest, have agreed to be team special correspondents.

Keep up with Maslyn, Davis and the group on St. Luke’s Facebook page and News & Community blog. You also can track the trip on Faith and Humanity Medical Missions’ Facebook page.

To get involved, contact David Bishop at [email protected] or Shannon Vaughn at [email protected] 
St. Luke’s Heart Executive Medical Director Dr. Marshall Priest and Dr. Priest’s granddaughters Davis Pessner and Maslyn Pessner help pack supplies for the upcoming trip.

St. Luke’s mission is to improve the health of people in our region.

For dozens of St. Luke’s team members, that’s just the beginning.

St. Luke’s Heart Administrator David Bishop, St. Luke’s Clinic Nurse Practitioner Shannon Vaughn, St. Luke’s Health Partners Medical Director Dr. Jon Schott, St. Luke’s Heart Executive Medical Director Dr. Marshall Priest and other physicians, nurses, clinicians, family members and friends have extended the spirit of St. Luke’s to Honduras, Haiti and multiple countries in Asia and Africa, donating thousands of hours and dollars’ worth of care and supplies in what is rapidly becoming a regularly occurring pop-up clinic series.

An upcoming care caravan will visit Honduras for a week in June. It’s no vacation; participants pay more than $2,000 to work 12-hour days for a seven-day period, giving up their checked-luggage space to ferry in bins of gauze, bandages, syringes and other supplies and practicing frontier medicine from folding chairs in some of the world’s poorest communities. They’re also asked to initiate supplemental projects that support the mission, organize children’s programs, figure out meals, raise additional funds and conduct pre-trip classes, among other tasks.

They will land June 4, set up their first clinic at a church or school Sunday, June 5, and work straight through the following Saturday, moving every day to another community. They are likely to see as many as 800 people a day. 800. A day. For seven straight days.

And yet 30 percent of the participants in the upcoming trip have gone before at least once. Entire families go. An interior designer, with no medical background, goes regularly, and insists on working in the pharmacy, chopping pills and packing medicines.

Why do they go, and why do they return?

There is nothing like it, Bishop said.

“You just feel grounded,” he said. “When everybody’s complaining about how bad it is here (in the United States), it’s really a first-world problem.

“You work with people who have nothing. You fall in love with them.” Of the interior designer, Bishop said, “She’s awesome.”

It’s addictive. Many members of the team that will go in June have returned repeatedly, sometimes more than once a year, sometimes for years on end. Bishop and Vaughn have been so moved by their involvement that last year they launched Faith and Humanity Medical Missions, an organization focused around St. Luke’s team members but including friends and family members who help to staff the visits, do accounting and logistics, keep things legal and otherwise ensure that the care and presence are a positive and helpful experience.

St. Luke’s employees have been participating in such medical trips for at least 16 years, with some initially getting involved through a Washington state organization. As word spread and the St. Luke’s presence on the trips has grown, it became apparent that it might be more effective to set up an Idaho structure to organize the visits. The June Honduras effort will be the largest known St. Luke’s-involved care trip to date, with close to 50 participants.

But the number of St. Luke’s participants in care trips may never be known. Employees join in with their churches, other not-for-profit organizations and as parties of one. Some focus on countries; others focus around needed equipment or conditions demanding attention. It is safe to say that hundreds of St. Luke’s employees do this sort of work every year, and Bishop believes there may be about one trip per month.

“Everybody who’s going has some kind of conviction,” Bishop said. “It’s been this amazing journey. We have this unique medical group from St. Luke’s and people who prop us up.”

Bishop’s summer trip now alternates with a winter visit headed up by Dr. Schott. The winter and summer teams have gone to the same areas quite often and often see the same patients. And what is now going on is what is supposed to happen with health care; people, entire families, are getting better. Which means the visiting teams can begin to move further afield, and improve the health of people outside the original region. Over time, Bishop thinks, a base of operations might be established in the country, with care moving in and out from there.

The level of activity, year round, day in and day out, to supply and equip the multiple visits is nearly invisible and astonishing in its sweep and creativity. Bishop routinely returns to his office in the St. Luke’s Boise hospital to find boxes of supplies. He and a loose confederation of others known to be active in various trips trade equipment, sources and leverage to multiply the value of the money raised to fund the work.

Working with other not-for-profit organizations and people involved in the trips has, among other things, turned $5,000 into $250,000 worth of supplies in one instance. Bishop spent a fair amount of time recently moving a load of defibrillators into the hands of those at other organizations to make sure the equipment could be used effectively.

“It just never ends, and every year is a little different,” he said. “There’s lots of people doing amazing work. There’s just tons of them, just lots of them.”

The poverty the medical volunteers will witness is staggering. Bishop has periodically been part of hospital tours where it has become apparent that staff members have stolen pharmaceuticals and supplies fundamental to hospital care and where the elevators don’t work, leaving personnel to haul patients up and down stairs on litters. In one instance, team members visited a men’s unit where AIDS and TB patients were intermingled. Transportation, food and other life basics are in short supply, and health care is often virtually nonexistent.

Twice now, Bishop’s group has made arrangements for patients they have seen in Honduras, both young girls, to receive specialized care with St. Luke’s in the Treasure Valley. One girl was successfully treated for a facial carcinoma, the other, for clubfoot. Both returned home and the team has seen them on subsequent visits.

Lots of the care the teams provide is very basic, which means it can be valuable far out of proportion to what people might expect in the United States. And trip organizers play the hand they are dealt, depending upon who signs up to staff the trip.

This time, there are lots of staff members from the cardiology programs, but in the past, trips may have included more nurses, or fewer clinicians overall. Dr. Priest, an interventional cardiologist who heads up all of St. Luke’s cardiovascular services, will provide primary care during the trip, as will other specialists. They get refresher lessons in primary care before they leave Idaho.

The team will see what primary care physicians and nurses see at home, but with a slightly tropical twist. There will be lots of physical exams, care for diabetes, hypertension, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and respiratory problems, along with parasites, fungal infections, insect bites and wounds. The team also will keep a small amount of cash on hand to pay for food for people who need to be seen at hospitals (meals aren’t provided) and for transportation or unusual medicines when needs arise.

During the upcoming Honduras visit, the team also expects to distribute dozens of pairs of glasses made available through the Idaho Lions Eye Bank and to hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“A pair of glasses can be a week or two salary there,” Bishop said, adding that a tube of toothpaste might cost the equivalent of a day’s pay for some of the recipients.

Team members will sit at a station, often with a family of three or more at a time. They take blood pressure readings and work from paper “problem lists,” going down the list, one per family member. Once exams of all family members are completed, a runner will pick up the batch of lists and take them to a pharmacist team member, who will fill prescriptions. The family gets the needed supplies and the team repeats the process, over and over throughout the day. Each station is likely to host 60 to 80 patients each day. The group is likely to see 4,000 to 4,500 people in the course of the week.

“It is as salt of the earth as it can be,” Bishop said. “It works wonderfully.”

About The Author

Roya Camp works in the St. Luke’s Communications department.

Related Provider

Shannon R. Vaughn, NP

Related Specialty


Diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases, abnormalities, and related conditions.