Humanitarian service in Belize

June 2018 – Vol. 37, No. 5

Jeffrey J. Harmon Jr., MD
Resident Grant Awardee, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

This past February, I had the privilege of serving on a medical mission to the Corozal Community Hospital in Corozal, Belize. It was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my life. Organized through Partners for Belize, the mission targets an underserved population of 25,000 in northern Belize, many of whom belong to rural Mennonite communities. I spent one week with my mentor, Devinder Mangat, MD, focused on the surgical treatment of congenital and acquired facial deformities in adults and children.

The mission consisted of one day of pre-operative evaluation of patients followed by four days of high-volume surgery. Partners for Belize is well-established in the area, with 12 years of experience working in the community. As a result, it has established deep connections with local healthcare providers as well as the Ministry of Health. Approximately 60 people attended this medical mission in the capacity of pharmacists, nurses, primary care physicians, surgeons, surgical assistants, and support staff. We worked together to evaluate and treat hundreds of patients and performed almost 80 procedures. This was my first medical mission and, therefore, my first opportunity to apply my medical training abroad.

Joveh Zetina is a five-year-old boy who presented on our screening day with an unrepaired unilateral cleft palate. The cleft had made it difficult for Joveh to maintain adequate nutrition. We repaired his cleft palate and observed him overnight. Fortunately, Joveh made a rapid recovery. He and his mother left happy and grateful.

This experience reinforced my passion for otolaryngology. I gained confidence as a surgeon, grew closer to colleagues, and developed an appreciation for international mission work. I plan to continue international mission work throughout my career. I hope to return to the Middle East where I taught undergraduate pre-medical students eight years ago.