Area Doctors Take Medical Supplies to Remote Sites

Article excerpt

Dr. Chip Lambert puts his trust in God, but verifies with his eyes.

In remote and destitute corners of countries such as Kenya and Malawi, where large aid shipments can't go, a growing number of doctors such as Lambert are packing up what medical supplies they can and delivering them, often without pay.

"It's a huge blessing that we've got all these (donated) instruments, but we can't just send them" to remote locations, said Lambert, 47, of Sewickley. "A lot of these things can't be used in bush hospitals. You'd never do open heart surgery in a shack in the mountains of Peru. ... We're also worried about the black market."

The donated instruments, along with tons of donated medicine, have poured into the Brother's Brother Foundation in the North Side in recent years. Lambert, who works part time in Allegheny General Hospital's emergency room, is a Brother's Brother board member.

Most of the foundation's work involves loading as much as 15 tons of supplies into 40-foot-long, ocean-going containers bound for major hospitals around the world.

"You don't send these to a one-doctor office," said Luke Hingson, president of Brother's Brother. The growing number of small deliveries, called mission trips, is "not the heaviest thing we do, but it's going to places we never would've gotten to."

"Two years ago, we had 30 mission trips a year. Last year, we had 50. This year, we have 140, " said Velimir Letoja, the inventory coordinator who puts together packages for mission trips.

Letoja is becoming a well-known name among medical missionaries as more people find out about the foundation. He took over the mission trip work as a side job, Hingson said. In the past two years, he has organized about one-quarter of the North Side warehouse into a one-stop depot for traveling doctors, with supplies from surgical knives to antibiotics.

"Now people (overseeing mission trips) say, 'Go see Val. He'll take care of you,' " Hingson said.

The supplies are free to doctors, who have to pass a background check before Brother's Brother agrees to help. Other groups charge for medical supplies, but Hingson said his group gives them away because the people taking the trips have paid enough.

"They pay their own way," Hingson said. "It's their wealth, their time, their money that they're investing."

Those who take the trips, however, rarely talk about the cost.

Dr. Don Stechschulte, 61, of Lewisburg in Union County took his first trip to Managua, Nicaragua, after Hurricane Mitch tore through the city in 1998. About 15,000 people who lost homes were relocated to a pasture, given four boards, some black tarp and told, "here's your house," Stechschulte said.

"As a human being, you can't just walk away from that," said Stechschulte, a Pittsburgh native and director of student health at Bucknell University. …