IN A SHOWING of the Thomasian spirit, more than 830 surgeries were conducted in a four-day major surgical mission by UST Medical Missions, Inc. (MMI) in Albay.

The team was composed of 53 doctors, nine nurses, 19 Medicine students, 12 Nursing students, two dentists, and 20 other volunteers.

Headed by Dr. Wiliam Olalia along with Dr. Bernardo Cuevas and Santisimo Rosario Church parish priest Fr. Franklin Beltran, O.P., the team served a total of 2,815 patients from different provinces in the Bicol region last April 21 to 24 at the Aquinas University campus.

MMI collaborated with the Special Commission on Research and Education of Ohio, Aquinas University of Legazpi, Aquinas University Hospital Foundation, Inc. and the local government.

Services offered included free consultations, medications, acupuncture, dental services, minor surgeries such as circumcision and excision of cysts, and major surgeries like thyroidectomy, and removal of myoma, hernia and hemorrhoids.

Olalia said the primary objective of holding medical missions throughout the country was to ensure that free medical and surgical services would be made available to Filipinos who could not afford hospital care.

“We help because we know that they cannot afford [these kinds of services] and the government cannot provide these things at once,” she said.

The greatest benefit of being part of medical missions is the satisfaction that one gets out of helping even without compensation, said Olalia.

“We lost days of practice, the opportunity to earn. But this time, we want to share our expertise to the people who [were] in need of this kind of service,” he said. “All these people [participated] in a voluntary basis. Others think we are being paid, [but] we do not get paid a single cent. We even spend.”

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Beneficiaries

With his small income as a fisherman, Jimmy Berjeuga, a resident of Legazpi, has been struggling for five years to get treatment for his wife diagnosed with myoma.

Berjuega said he found his greatest blessing when his wife was referred by a doctor of the Aquinas University Hospital to the UST medical mission for a free surgical operation.

“Malaki ang pasasalamat namin kasi kung hindi nag-medical mission, gagastos na naman kami ng malaking pera,” Berjuega said. “Maraming natulungan dito.”

A patient from Sorsogon who was diagnosed with goiter, Loriefe Gemida, expressed her gratitude in the free surgical operation and medicines she received.

“Maganda po na nakakatulong kayo sa amin kasi siyempre wala naman kaming pera kaya nangangailan din kami, lalo na ‘yung libreng gamot,” Gemida said.

Another resident, Soledad Rebua, who underwent removal of cysts, admitted that she had to wait for a day and a half just to be operated. However, she was thankful that the operation was successful.

“Nagpakonsulta na ako sa isang ospital sa Tuburan, Ligao. Pinapatanggal ko na dati pero hindi naman nila tinanggal, binigyan lang ako ng gamot. Buti nalang, dito sinabi nila na talagang ooperahan,” Rebua added.

MMI also had a major medical mission in Sorsogon earlier this April, serving 1,319 patients. Another one was conducted in Pangasinan early this May, serving 2,208 patients.

Considered the “biggest delegation” among other medical missions, UST volunteers transformed more than 10 classrooms into patient wards, a pre-operating room, a recovery room, minor operating rooms, and major operating rooms, with each having 10 operating tables.

Fr. Ernesto Arceo, O.P., former UST rector and now rector and president of Aquinas University, said MMI had extended UST’s core values by contributing in the University’s mission of pastoral service.

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“[Members of the MMI] bring along with them not only their expertise, but also material resources [like] medicines and other medical-related resources in order to be given away free, for the benefit of the poor people in the region,” Arceo said in an interview, noting that the medical mission was primarily sponsored by the UST Medicine class of 1976, in partnership with the Tomasinong Bikolano.

With assistance from local medical practitioners and volunteers, patients were screened to certify their indigence and qualification for the corresponding medical services.

Dr. Robert Ang, a diagnostic radiologist from Minnesota, who volunteered for the mission, said helping those in need of medical relief was not only the responsibility of doctors but of everyone.

MMI has been offering medical and surgical services since 1961. It has served more than a million patients all over the country.

The organization is composed of three arms, the MMI-Proper, composed of registered Thomasian doctors and nurses; the MMI-Student Group, composed of UST Medicine students; and the MMI-Nursing Group, composed of UST Nursing students.

Minor medical missions are held regularly, while major ones are done during summer and semestral breaks.

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