By Katie Bisaro
Seven parishioners from St. Stephen the First Martyr Church in Warwick recently spent a week in the Dominican Republic as part of a medical mission through Island Impact Ministries providing care to poor and medically marginalized communities in the Puerta Plata region on the island’s northern coast.
Led by Dr. John Juliano and his wife, Mary, the contingent from St. Stephen’s met up with other medical providers from around the United States as well as nursing students from the University of Scranton, the Juliano’s alma mater. It was a group of 26 in all. Through their efforts nearly 800 patients, mostly women and children – many of whom were refugees from Haiti – received vital medical attention.
Each day the Island Impact group would travel to a small, indigent village and set up “shop” in the village church, a small gathering space where pew benches and chairs were rearranged for the day to accommodate the flow of the clinic.
Dr. Juliano, affectionately referred to as Dr. Juan in the D. R., the other medical providers, including Shanna Wood, a Physician’s Assistant from Warwick, and the nursing students spent their days taking patient histories, assessing their needs, prescribing medication, and treating wounds, rashes and infections. Common illnesses and complaints included new or ongoing hypertension; diabetes and often subsequent wound care; skin conditions such as fungal infections and scabies; intestinal worms; respiratory issues; and some orthopedic cases.
Each day brought different situations, including one man having an active heart attack who initially refused to allow a call for an ambulance as he had no way to get back to his village from the hospital. He eventually relented and 911 was called… and took nearly an hour to respond. The patient walked to and climbed into the ambulance himself; there was no gurney.
Non-medical “lay people” on the trip, including St. Stephen’s parishioners Katie Bisaro, Janet Grahn, and Lydia and Casey van Duynhoven, worked in the pharmacy area of the clinic filling prescriptions as indicated by the providers. They also ensured that everyone who came into the clinic left with a small gift such as hygiene kits for the adults and lollipops, small toys and games for the children. There was even an impromptu “optometry” clinic where those in need were fitted with “readers” that had been brought down to the island.
Mary Juliano was instrumental in keeping the clinic running smoothly all day as she directed the intake of up to 150 patients, organized the waiting areas to ensure all needs were met and filled in wherever needed. A dentist, Mary also performed dental screenings and check-ups on 180 public school children on the mission’s final day in the hopes that the children would then go to a local free dental clinic for continued treatment.
Support and prayers from St. Stephen’s parishioners at home were also carried down to the Dominican Republic. Donations to the poor box for one weekend as well as individual donations were collected, adding up to enough to pay for the prescription medications that were purchased ahead of time. Remaining funds were donated to Island Impact Ministries to continue its work.
St. Stephen-St. Edward School students created reusable bags from donated t-shirts for the giveaways. The St. Stephen’s Pre-school program collected baby and children’s necessities such as children’s medications, lotions, and shampoos. Finally, a walker and wheelchair were brought down to the D. R. – the walker was given to a man who was barely ambulatory due to complications from diabetes, and the wheelchair was given to the Island Impact clinic for patient use.
Daily social media updates of the mission work were posted allowing parishioners, friends and families to follow the group’s journey.
A presentation on the St. Stephen’s Island Impact Ministry mission trip will be given on Sat., Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. in the church following 5 p.m. Mass. Participants will talk about their experience, the impact it had on their lives and those they met in the Dominican Republic. Information will also be given on a service trip planned for this summer, closer to home, to Rhode Island, open to adults and students 9th grade and older. All are welcome to attend this presentation.
In all, it was a successful mission providing life-sustaining treatment and dignity to those who are marginalized by their own society. Their gratitude and joy were evidenced in every smile, handshake and hug. And every volunteer who spent the week in service would agree, they received far more than they gave.