(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.
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.
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.
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.