Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
MEDVAMC Employees Inspired by Kenya Mission Trip
Three registered nurses and a doctor from Houston’s Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center recently travelled to Africa on a mission to help others and ended up having the experience of a lifetime. In June, four Houston VA employees joined a medical mission trip to Kenya and set up a camp to serve the Maasai tribe at the Village of Sekanani gate. The dedicated clinicians brought with them years of VA nursing and medical experience and a passion for helping those in need.
“The people in the Maasai tribe we served were without medicines and medical care for months prior to our arrival,” said Jennifer Myles, an RN at the Houston VA quality management office. “The poverty there is widespread and the people are without the basics like clean water, antibiotics, and even aspirin. It meant so much to me to be able to go there and physically provide them with the medical care they so desperately need. The appreciation and relief on the faces of these people is something I will never forget.”
The medical team treated hundreds of tribe members for a wide range of issues including upper respiratory infections, wound dressings and care, allergies, animal bites and skin rashes. Close to 100 had much needed dental pain relief after receiving dental extractions. The patients ranged in age from three weeks to 80 years and were provided with much-needed on-the-spot care. Lynette Dorsey RN, the deputy associate director for patient care services at the Houston VA, was thrilled to join the medical team and take her first trip to Kenya. “This trip brought me back in touch with why I became a nurse in the first place…to help people,” said Dorsey, whose job at the VA focuses primarily on nursing leadership rather than direct patient care. “I saw firsthand the difference that basic medical care can make in the lives of others.”
According to Dorsey, clean water for drinking and bathing is scarce in the village, with many tribe members suffering from back and shoulder pain after carrying bucket after bucket of water back and forth to their families. Each member of the mission team was authorized to travel to Sekanani with a 50 pound suitcase filled with much-needed medications donated by Americares, a non-profit global health organization. Prior to leaving at the end of the trip, Dorsey and several other members of the medical mission team emptied their suitcases, leaving their clothing behind for tribe members to wear with pride after they left. “It was eye-opening to me how incredibly thankful the people there were to receive things we take for granted in this country,” she said. “These people truly touched my heart.”
Houston VA primary care physician Thomas Kumenda was a key member of the medical mission team; this was his second trip to Kenya since 2015. “We treated these patients without some of what we consider the basics of medical care here in America such as a blood lab and x-rays,” he said. “Operating on clinical acumen alone was a big challenge but was very rewarding as well. Coming back to the VA after being on a trip like this makes me appreciate the vast resources we have here to treat our Veterans.”
Kumenda treated patients for everything from wild animal (lion) attacks to limb problems from walking around in bare feet. He also noted the incredible gratitude of the people he was able to care for in the village. “We treated a very sick female patient who needed intravenous fluid support and as she recovered, her mother, in a tribal gesture showing their total appreciation, presented our VA nurses Lynette (Dorsey) and Mary (Chatman) with special tribal necklaces. It was an amazing feeling.”
Myles is a retired Commander in the Navy Nurse Corps and has been going on mission trips to Kenya every year since 1985. In 2006, Myles and her late mother built a school in Sekenani and she has pledged an ongoing commitment to the people in the village. “After I got out of the military, I knew I wanted to keep giving back…both as a VA nurse and through mission work,” she said.
According to Myles, the VA team returned to Houston inspired by the hardworking people they served and filled with renewed compassion and caring for our Veteran patients. After hearing about the trip, several Houston VA doctors are already planning a medical mission trip back to Kenya for June of next year.
“I am so proud of the caring and compassion of my VA co-workers,” Myles said. “We are truly passionate about giving back to those who are less fortunate and taking care of others. After all, that’s what healthcare is all about.”