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Jim Durkin

Jim Durkin, a native of Inkster, N.D., retired in 2014 after 40 fun-filled years as a journalist, mostly at the Grand Forks Herald and Minneapolis Star Tribune. He now spends his time ushering at Minnesota Twins games, doing volunteer work, harassing grandkids and feeding leeches to Devils Lake walleyes. Today, Durkin and a group of Minnesota doctors and nurses begin a journey to the Philipines to provide medical assistance to people who need it.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — It Wasn’t About The Numbers But …

“It’s not about the numbers.”

That was the mantra heard daily — sometimes several times a day — from Dr. Bernard Quebral and some of the other 100-plus Minnesota volunteers on a medical mission last week to Mariveles District Hospital in the Philippines.

It was heard Sunday after a “soft opening” that was meant to screen 300 patients who were there for surgeries that would be scheduled during the week. The Sunday numbers jumped to 600 patients when those in the eye clinic decided to help 300 patients who had shown up a day early.

Workers tore up a cardboard box and put a thank you sign in the hospital window.
Workers tore up a cardboard box and put a thank you sign in the hospital window.

On Monday, an expected capacity of 1,000 patients soon became history when more than 1,400 patients were treated. Ditto as the number swelled again Tuesday and Wednesday before peaking Thursday at 2,550 patients served.

In all, more than 9,000 Filipinos were treated by the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association (PMMA) during its weeklong stay. In seven missions in previous years, Quebral said the most they have ever served was just more than 6,000.

But it wasn’t about the numbers.

The goal, said Quebral and others, was to give each patient the very best medical care they could give. It didn’t matter if they needed 10 minutes or 30 minutes and a couple of consults to get a proper diagnosis. The patients weren’t rushed through the process.

It wasn’ about the numbers.

Or was it?

As an outsider looking in, I was flabbergasted by the numbers because to me, they weren’t just numbers. Each number had a face. I didn’t know where they came from or where they would return. But they all had a spirit and telltale emotions.

  • No. 610 might have been a beautiful young girl whose life forever changed because she no longer had a cleft lip.
  • No. 1,522 might have been a young mother who would finally read to her children because she found a pair of free glasses that opened a whole new world to her.
  • Perhaps No. 2,793  had three teeth removed and was pain free and able to eat hard food for the first time in weeks.
  • No. 5,539 may have been one of those who no longer had to carry around a volleyball-sized tumor in the pit of her stomach.
  • No. 7,846 may have simply been given a few packets of Advil and found temporary relief from his aches and pains for the first time in years.

I understand the matra, but I also believe it was about the numbers, mostly  because patients were able to get BOTH top quality care and get it in record numbers. That happened by design.

This was a savvy group of volunteers, many of whom had traveled together on previous missions. They adjusted and adapted as they went.

  • When the eyeglass clinic was overwhelmed, they opened a second station and armed it with their best and brightest students.
  • When more translators were needed, they were found and distributed appropriately.
  • When the pharmacy was overwhelmed, they came up with a system to get necessary approval for doctors to distribute some of the most popular drugs from their “office” desks, cutting the waiting lines.

Long days and hard work were the other factors behind the success. Each day began with breakfast available at 5 a.m. Buses were ready for loading at 6:15 and typically had made the trip over the mountain and arrived at the hospital before 7 a.m.

About 12 hours later volunteers, most of whom stayed in a dormitory-type building in the middle of nowhere about 5 kilometers from the hospital, were bused back home.

Volunteers litterally spent the week on top of each other as bunkbeds lined the dormitory-like rooms.
Volunteers litterally spent the week on top of each other as bunkbeds lined the dormitory-like rooms.

The rooms had six to eight people in each, sometimes more, with women on one end of the hall and men on the others. Each had community bathrooms.

Showering was guesswork — early morning or before bed — because one never knew when hot water would be available.

Volunteers socialized in two large rooms from 7 p.m. dinner time until most went to bed between 9 and 10 p.m. No sightseeing, no shopping, no horsing around. These folks were there to work. And aside from a governor’s dinner that included music and dancing from about 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday, that’s what they did.

“I don’t think we can top this one in terms of numbers,” said Quebral, who added with a laugh, “It’s doable, but I might have some post traumatic stress disorder after this.”

Workers loaded a truck with medical supplies that will be shipped to other needy areas of the Philippines.
Workers loaded a truck with medical supplies that will be shipped to other needy areas of the Philippines.

Friday morning wrapped up with some minor cases before volunteers packed up some of the equipment and medical supplies.

The hospital will now remain empty for a year while workers complete the building. Much of the donated equipment will remain behind, but anything that would expire in the year ahead was sent to other needy areas of the country.

The plan is to finish the hospital in the next year, then staff it and run it as a district hospital.

Bataan Gov. Albert “Abet” Garcia, a friendly and appreciative man, has said the hospital is a priority and he will ensure the project is completed.

One can only hope that 100 volunteers from Minnesota gave them the incentive they needed.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — Poor Oral Hygiene Habits Force Dentists To Take The Last Resort: Extraction

Out came the teeth, 12 in all. The extractions would at least temporarily stop the pain of one Filipino man, but it was emblematic of a nationwide crisis that yanked at the heart of an American dentist.

Dr. Kordie Reinhold says work at the new Mariveles District Hospital is a complete reversal of her dental practice in Minnesota.
Dr. Kordie Reinhold says work at the new Mariveles District Hospital is a complete reversal of her dental practice in Minnesota.

“He’s 28. He has two children, and this was the first time he had been to a dentist,” said Dr. Kordie Reinhold, a Minneapolis dentist. “I removed 12 teeth that were basically decayed to the gum line. That was the most I felt he could tolerate today.

“This is way worse than I expected,” Reinhold said of the patients she has seen in her first medical mission to the Philippines. “There is rampant decay — children have their teeth decayed off to the gum lines. I’m removing adult teeth on 9-year-olds, and they’ve only had those teeth for three years.

“It’s a big public health issue.”

Dr. Kordie Reinhold works on a 28-year-old man who had 12 teeth pulled.
Dr. Kordie Reinhold works on a 28-year-old man who had 12 teeth pulled.

National statistics back up her assessment. One survey says more than 92 percent of Filipinos have tooth decay and 78 percent have gum disease. That same report said 74 percent of 12-year-olds have gingivitis.

Reinhold, 58, is the only U.S. dentist with the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association mission group of about 100 Minnesota doctors, nurses and others who are spending the week in the Philippines.  She is joined at Mariveles District Hospital each day by anywhere from seven to 12 dentists from the region.

Jerico Avila, a Delta Airlines employee, and Cathy Boland, a St. Paul hotel worker, work with Reinhold in the dental division. They each have six medical missions under their belt, all spent in dental work.

“They are amazing,” said Reinhold, who credits them with keeping the entire operation flowing.

Dentists work side-by-side in an open room to treat more than 225 patients each day.
Dentists work side-by-side in an open room to treat more than 250 patients each day.

That’s no small task, given Reinhold and her associates are treating an average of 250 patients daily. They have a their wide-open office space where plastic-lined garbage cans serve as spit sinks. There are only four dental chairs so many of the patients sit in regular chairs and just tilt back their heads as the dentists work.

Extractions are the main order of business.

Some ice helped ease the pain of this woman.
Some ice helped ease the pain of this woman.

“I almost never do just one per patient. It’s always multiple. I try to do most of what each patient needs, but with so many people needing attention, you kind of get to the point where you have to address pain,” Reinhold said.

It’s a complete reversal of her dental practice in Minnesota.

“I live in this nice neighborhood in Minneapolis where people have their teeth checked every six months. Their issues are so minor. It’s almost mind-boggling to compare the two.”

Sometimes a stuffed animal can ease the pain.
Sometimes a stuffed animal can ease the pain.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — Surgeons Use MASH Experience To Complete 55 Major Surgeries In Two Days

As surgeons sliced a volleyball-sized tumor from the tummy of one anesthetized woman, another team of doctors about 10 feet across the room tied the tubes of another. In the room next door, teams fixed cleft palates on a pair of youngsters.

Privacy, smivacy. Patients who have come to get help from the American doctors with the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association are not concerned about private rooms and personal care. They have often waited for years to get much-needed help, and their priorities are different. Nowhere is that more evident than the surgical care unit.

Naomi Quillopa has done 80 to 90 medical missions around the world in the past 25 years and often works with the same doctors.
Naomi Quillopa has done 80 to 90 medical missions around the world in the past 25 years and often works with the same doctors.

Under the direction of team leader and coordinator Naomi Quillopa, 55, the doctors are a paradigm in organization and professionalism. They work swiftly and efficiently.

“They’re seasoned surgical missionaries,” said Quillopa, who has done 80 to 90 medical missions around the world in the past 25 years and often works with the same doctors.

“We have not had any complications. We have done this numerous, numerous times, and we are used to doing things on a routine basis, the same as we do back home. It prevents us from running into trouble.”

Siobhan Lyons, of Faribault, Minn., tries to wake up a patient who was in the recovery room following surgery. Lyons is a nurse at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Siobhan Lyons, of Faribault, Minn., tries to wake up a patient who was in the recovery room following surgery. Lyons is a nurse at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

That says a lot, considering the Mariveles District Hospital is in the midst of being rebuilt and is being used for the first time by the 100 mission volunteers from Minnesota. It previously was an education building that had fallen into total disrepair after sitting empty for years.

“All of the missions I’ve done have been very unique in their own way,” Quillopa said. “This one is particularly interesting in that we’re coming into an empty shell. The electricity and water were just started about three days before we came.

Doctors remove a volleyball-sized tumor from a patient Tuesday afternoon at Mariveles District Hospital.
Doctors remove a volleyball-sized tumor from a patient Tuesday afternoon at Mariveles District Hospital.

“It’s not even done being reconstructed yet. Here we are with this MASH unit and we turned it into a hospital in a day. After 24 hours here we are doing surgery and we continue to do it the best way we know how.”

Quillopa has 45 people, including eight surgeons, under her watch. The unit has three operating rooms, which are divided into gynecology, plastic surgery and ear, nose and throat. They have dealt with hysterectomies, tumor removals, burn scar reconstructions, cleft lips and palates, goiter as well as a handful of other issues.

Twenty major surgeries were performed Monday and that increased to 33 on Tuesday during a 12-hour shift. The surgical team and those who worked in the recovery room were there long after others had left Tuesday night.

“These missions are never about us,” said Quillopa, who worked for years in the burn unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul before quitting to become a fulltime taxi driver for her kids. “It’s all about the people we serve.

“It’s not about numbers, it’s not about money, it’s not about politics. It’s about providing services to people who otherwise could not get them because they don’t have the means.”

Kristen Schneider tends to a toddler in the pediatric ward as the baby's mother looks on.
Kristen Schneider tends to a toddler in the pediatric ward as the baby’s mother looks on.

Each mission holds special memories, and the one that tops her list this year happened early in the week. A family from Mindanao, an island more than 600 miles south of Mariveles, brought two children for surgery. There was a 5-year-old girl with a cleft palate and a 3-year-old boy with a cleft lip and palate. A social worker helped them make the trip.

Doctors perform surgery on a cleft palate.
Doctors remove a volleyball-sized tumor from a woman’s stomach.

 

“These are folks who never would have been able to get them surgery because the area where they come from rarely receives surgical missionaries such as us because it’s a very unstable island politically,” Quillopa said.

“They are very, very poor, but were willing to make the sacrifice because they wanted what was best for their children.

“You don’t forget people like that.”

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — Hospital Sees Success And 1,400 Patients On Grand Opening

Jeff Turner calls it the happy station. There are no needles, no scalpels and no painful recoveries. The best part, though, is the almost instantaneous smiles that come with success.

Jeff Turner used an auto-refractor machine to test the vision of a patient at Mariveles District Hospital.
Jeff Turner used an auto-refractor machine to test the vision of a patient at Mariveles District Hospital.

Turner is in charge of one of the busiest corners in an extremely busy Mariveles District Hospital in the Philippines. The new facility officially opened Monday, when a team of 100 Minnesota volunteers, mostly doctors and nurses, flung the doors open to a very needy and appreciative public.

The patients who visited Turner and his team of uplifting assistants were sent away at the rate of about one per minute, sporting new eyeglasses and getting a clear view of the world perhaps for the first time in years. About 450 Filipinos went home with new glasses Monday.

The patients aren’t fussy. You’ll see men go home with women’s frames and vice versa. “They just want to be able to see,” Turner said.

A woman tries on glasses, complete with the Minnie Pearl-esque tag.
A woman tries on glasses, complete with the Minnie Pearl-esque tag.

He has been keeping track of some of their heartwarming comments when people try on their glasses for the first time. “One of the women put on her glasses and she’s like, ‘Oh, I can finally go back to work! I worked as a manager and I just couldn’t see any more.’

“Another said, ‘I can finally read my Bible.’ ”

And the list goes on.

As you watch Turner work, you’d think he had years of experience as an optometrist. You’d be wrong.

The 39-year-old from Farmington, Minn., is a vice president of sales for Fagron Inc., a pharmaceutical wholesaler. He got into the eyeglass business simply because he wanted to be a useful mission worker.

It happened about 10 years ago after a trip to Haiti. He learned of the Kendall Optometry Ministry, which has a slogan of: “Serving the Lord by providing better vision to people of underdeveloped countries.” The organization offered a field optometry kit, which runs on batteries, a key in many mission areas.

Turner dove in, getting the necessary training and serving the poor of the world. He returned to Haiti in 2007, 2008 and 2009 before a job change required him to take a break. This is his first trip with the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association.

There are more than 14,000 pair of glasses from which patients can choose.
There are more than 14,000 pair of glasses from which patients can choose.

He brought 3,000 pairs of glasses ― 2,000 of which were donated by Champlin (Minn.) High School ― and 1,000 “readers.”  Another 10,000 pair of regular glasses were shipped here from other U.S. sources.

The process of finding appropriate prescriptions is more than trial-and-error. Turner spends the day looking into each patient’s eyes through a hand-held auto-refractor unit. It shoots a laser through the pupil and measures the distance between the cornea and the retina. From that he can get a good sense of what is needed.

The glasses are all barcoded by prescription and inventoried accordingly. The assistants can take a printout that Turner gives the patient and immediately find the needed prescription. Sometimes, it takes a couple of tries to get the best match.

The result Monday was 450 patients, 450-plus smiles.

Exceeding expectations

Monday’s grand opening of Mariveles District Hospital was greeted with high hopes and bloated expectations. When reality hit, both were blown away.

Umbrellas punctured the sky as patients waited for hours in bright sunshine for a chance at a pair of eyeglasses.
Umbrellas punctured the sky as patients waited for hours in bright sunshine for a chance at a pair of eyeglasses.

The goal to reach the 1,000-patient daily capacity became laughable when more than 1,400 grateful Filipinos went through the doors.

“It was the best first day we’ve ever had,” said Dr. Bernard Quebral, who is coordinating his eighth medical mission to the Philippines.

Highlights included 680 outpatients treated, 270 dental patients, 450 for eye care, 20 major surgeries and 42 minor procedures. They also filled more than 800 prescriptions for outpatients.

“In some places, that’s a week’s work,” Quebral said.

The key, he said, was the work done by the advance team, which arrived in Mariveles the week before the doctors, nurses and others. “The advance team always sets the tone,” he said.

Every step ― from crowd control to registration to treatment to pharmacy to checkout ―was fluid and efficient. Glitches and complications were handled quickly and seamlessly.

“I couldn’t see it going any better,” Quebral said.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — The Hospital Opens And The Medical Team Goes To Work

For some, Sunday was a very good day. For others, it was very hard. For all, it was historic.

Under sunny skies with a cool sea breeze cutting the 90-degree heat, the new Mariveles District Hospital opened Sunday with Minnesota doctors screening about 300 Filipinos to determine who they could help via surgery in the week ahead.

Dr. Warren Schubert, of Regions Hospital in St. Paul, explains to the family of Bernard Fajarlo, 3, that he will do surgery to fix the toddler's cleft lip and palate.
Dr. Warren Schubert, of Regions Hospital in St. Paul, explains to the family of Bernard Fajarlo, 3, that he will do surgery to fix the toddler’s cleft lip and palate.

Three-year-old Bernard Fajrlo was one of the lucky ones, though his loud cries made it obvious that he didn’t know it. His mother nodded in silence as Dr. Warren Schubert told her through a translator that they would fix Bernard’s palate and lip Monday.

The mother later said that they have never consulted a doctor about Bernard’s issues because they didn’t have the money. “I’m very excited,” she said.

Many patients seen Sunday had been referred by their doctors in the Philippines; others just showed up. They were full of hope but, in some cases, it was obvious they were beyond help. Maybe, just maybe these American doctors had a miracle or two in their satchels.

The doctors, nurses and other personnel were part of the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association and arrived in Mariveles on Saturday. Sunday’s work focused only on those who were being screened for surgical procedures that would be performed during the week.

Princess Castro, 5, was told the mass on her face was too complicated for the U.S. doctors to deal with in their weeklong visit and that she would need to go to Manila for follow-up treatment.
Princess Castro, 5, was told the mass on her face was too complicated for the U.S. doctors to deal with in their weeklong visit and that she would need to go to Manila for follow-up treatment.

In all, about 90 major surgeries were scheduled and another 200 minor procedures will be performed. They will involve gynecology and ear, nose and throat issues along with the plastic surgery.

Though many were scheduled for additional treatment, making it a good day, others had to be told that nothing could be done.

Princess Castro, 5, was among the latter. She has a mass on her face that could raise too many potential complications if cut open. She had an earlier surgery in Manila and the U.S. doctors told her mother that Princess should follow-up with the surgeons there.

Schubert, a native of Wishek, N.D., who is a plastic surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, scheduled about 30 surgeries for the week. He expects a few additional walk-ins in the days ahead.

Orland Sellar, 22, said he was "nervous, but excited" to have surgery to fix his cleft lip and palate. The surgery "will only change my appearance. My heart will remain the same," he said.
Orland Sellar, 22, said he was “nervous, but excited” to have surgery to fix his cleft lip and palate. The surgery “will only change my appearance. My heart will remain the same,” he said.

Orland Sellar, a 22-year-old construction worker, was among the oldest. He says he has been living a normal life with his cleft lip and palate but decided to check it out when his neighbor told him about the Americans. He had never sought treatment because he never had the money.

He says he’s “nervous, but excited.” The surgery “will only change my appearance. My heart will remain the same.”

And the patients and ice cream kept coming

* Dr. Jonathan Sembrano, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the University of Minnesota and VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, saw the day’s first patient, a man who initially thought he had a dislocated shoulder. It turns out it was broken. They put him in a sling and told him how to care for it. Time, not surgery, would be his healer.

Dr. Jonathan Sembrano, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the University of Minnesota, looked at an X-ray and determined the man's shoulder was broken.
Dr. Jonathan Sembrano, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the University of Minnesota, looked at an X-ray and determined the man’s shoulder was broken.

* As the day wore on, the crowd of patients never seemed to shrink. Given Sunday was supposed to be the quiet day with only about 300 patients, mission organizer Dr. Bernard Quebral was asked how they would handle the week ahead when 1,500 or more were expected each day. “One patient at a time,” he said.

* Bruce Bain, of Hugo, Minn., was the most popular man in Mariveles when he bought ice cream treats for approximately 36 kids who were waiting on the lawn outside the hospital. “There were some kids from families who had money and some kids from families who didn’t have money,” said Bain, who coordinates supplies and equipment for the mission. “You could see them looking longingly at the ice cream.” The cost to spread so much joy? About $5.

* The eye clinic was not supposed to open until Monday, but because the volunteers were ready and the demand was there, it opened long enough Sunday to give out 300 pairs of glasses. The group is prepared to give away as many as 9,000 pairs of glasses during the week.

 

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — Sweat And Smarts Treat Ailing Hospital’s Construction Bugs

Time was short and decisions were necessary. Now.

So they came up with a plan to surround Mariveles District Hospital with portable toilets and park a water tanker truck outside to supply water. It was far from ideal, but they were looking at a disaster.

Scott Zimmer, a Realtor and property investor who has a background in construction, was instrumental in preventing disaster that could have scuttled project.
Scott Zimmer, a Realtor and property investor who has a background in construction, was instrumental in preventing disaster that could have scuttled project.

Scott Zimmer, of St. Paul, and an advance team of a handful of other Minnesotans came to the Philippines a week before the main contingent of doctors, nurses and others. The bulk of the Twin Cities’ volunteers arrived in Mariveles on Saturday on a medical mission that would have them open the new hospital and christen it with thousands of local patients in the week ahead.

Zimmer and others, however, wondered only days earlier if they should scrub the mission and tell everyone to stay home.

The building, which had been saved from the scrap heap and slowly remodeled over the past four years, was nowhere near ready for patients. There was no water, no sewer, no electricity, no back-up generator on site and no ceiling fixtures.
The building, which had been saved from the scrap heap and slowly remodeled over the past four years, was nowhere near ready for patients. There was no water, no sewer, no electricity, no back-up generator on site and no ceiling fixtures.

The building, which had been saved from the scrap heap and slowly remodeled over the past four years, was nowhere near ready for patients. There was no water, no sewer, no electricity, no back-up generator on site and no ceiling fixtures. All are fairly critical elements in a hospital.

I’ve been on projects before where we’ve been behind and under pressure,” Zimmer said, “but never like this one where it came to the point of, ‘are we going to cancel?’ ”

Members of the advance team gathered and decided they had to go forward. A contingency plan, which consisted of the portable toilets and tanker truck, was drawn up. Meantime, the workers soldiered on.

“Our pinnacle moment was Friday,” Zimmer said. “That’s when we knew we could make it work.”

The bulk of the Twin Cities' volunteers arrived in Mariveles on Saturday.
The bulk of the Twin Cities’ volunteers arrived in Mariveles on Saturday.

There is no casting blame for the problems, just a determination to get them fixed. Things are done differently in the Philippines and Zimmer accepts that. For instance: Last week he called a plumber, who showed up with no tools. He tightened everything by hand. That might work in some places, but it left the hospital with a lot of leaks.

Most have been fixed, but on Saturday the doctors, nurses and others were told that if they saw any leaks they should report them and they would be repaired.

And so it goes in the 24 hours before the patients arrive. Construction workers and doctors brush shoulders in the hallways as they prepare for the opening.

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Signs wait to be posted.

Zimmer, a Realtor and property investor who has a background in construction as well as hospital operations, has a quiet confidence. You can sense he feels a minor miracle has occurred. Much credit is given to members of the advance team.

“We know each other so well that we can predict each other’s thoughts and actions,” he said. “It has really been a team effort.”

With his varied background, he was asked what his title was on this project. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll text (mission coordinator Dr. Bernard Quebal) and ask.”

A few minutes later, Quebral texted back a two-word title: The Savior.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — Some Background

(A group of  Minnesota volunteers is on the way to the Philippines to provide health care to thousands in an impoverished area. Since the group is out of touch for about 24 hours while traveling, here’s a little more background on Dr. Bernard Quebral, who is leading the group — and the trip itself.)

It wasn’t unusual for little Bernie Quebral to crawl out of bed, go to the family breakfast table and sit across from a stranger. “Oh, hi,” he’d say, then go about his day.

Dr. Bernard Quebral
Dr. Bernard Quebral

Quebral grew up in the Philippines, where his father was a local doctor who was on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They had a room in their house that was for patients who needed care but couldn’t afford to go to a clinic or hospital. Many strangers stayed there.

His mother was a midwife, and he’d often go with her on his bicycle or in a cart or even a small boat when she delivered babies. They would pay her maybe a quarter or sometimes a glass of milk.

Little Bernie knew how to circumcise by the time he was 14. Is it any wonder he became a doctor?

Dr. Bernard Quebral studied at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. After graduating, he went to Cook County Hospital in Chicago and eventually landed in St. Paul in the mid-1990s. He currently practices internal medicine at HealthParters in Woodbury, Minn. He took his first group of volunteers on a medical mission to the Philippines in 2002, under the auspices of the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association, and has gone every two years since.

The volunteers

Dr. Quebral does not like to be singled out and would prefer to stay in the background. He deflects the credit to the army of volunteers, many who have previously traveled with him. Several others are first-timers, but new or old, most are at least vaguely familiar with each other.

You see, they don’t just show up at the airport with their baggage and good intentions. Preparation for this trip began almost two years ago, shortly after the last mission ended.

At the very least, volunteers spend one Saturday per month sorting and packaging medicine and other supplies at Matter, a St. Louis Park, Minn., nonprofit that focuses on expanding access to food and health care, locally and worldwide.

Dr. Quebral leads those monthly gatherings, which have a dual purpose: 1. Help Matter accomplish its goals. 2. Help volunteers get to know each other and thus strengthen the volunteer team.

In addition to the time commitment, volunteers also must contribute financially. They pay their own airfare, donate a few hundred dollars to PMMA to help cover room and board while they are there and also cover other incidentals. They are heavily invested in the project.

The hospital

There’s a reason this is the biggest mission group to date with 100 volunteers: A long-vacant building has been remodeled and turned into the Mariveles District Hospital. The Minnesotans will be the first to use the facility.

Some of the state’s largest medical facilities, including  Allina, Fairview, Hennepin County Medical Center and Regions, have sent about $5 million in equipment and supplies to make the hospital functional. An advanced group of volunteers arrived in Mariveles about a week ago to ensure the facility is ready for patients.

If you stop and ponder all of things that go into opening and running a hospital, it’s a bit intimidating. And scary.

JIM DURKIN: Minnesota To The Philippines — A Flight Of Mercy

In a few hours, I will board an airplane and fly about 8,000 miles to a land where I have never been to mingle with people who I have never met, amid more sickness and suffering than I have ever seen in one place.

It’s a trip I chose to take. And I am not alone.

About 100 residents of the Twin Cities, mostly doctors and nurses, are going on a medical mission to Mariveles in the province of Bataan in the Philippines.

Dr. Bernard Quebral
Dr. Bernard Quebral

The group is headed by Dr. Bernard Quebral, a native of the Philippines who practices internal medicine at the HealthPartners clinic in Woodbury, Minn. (Full disclosure: Dr. Q, as he is often called, is my personal physician and has been the last line of defense between me and the Pearly Gates for about 16 years.)

Dr. Q has led several missions to his homeland since 2002 under the auspices of the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association (PMMA).

The group has goals that are hard to imagine. The plan is to see up to 1,000 patients each day. Most of them will be treated and sent home. But doctors also hope to do up to 35 major surgeries and 50 to 70 minor surgeries daily. As many as 200 patients will get dental care each day, and thousands will receive free eye glasses during the weeklong mission.

The scene will not be one of 15 to 20 folks patiently sitting on padded chairs in a quiet waiting room.

For the next 22 to 24 hours I will be traveling. There’s a 13-hour flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo, a two-hour layover and then a five-hour flight to Manila. From there, we’ll board a bus for a three- to four-hour ride to Mariveles, Bataan. I intend to file updates all week, as Internet connections allow. Please bookmark this page and check back often.