When Dr. Thomas deTar returned from a 10-day medical mission to Guatemala, he felt “spiritually revitalized.”
“You are invigorated with the real love of medicine,” deTar said. “You’re doing it completely for other people, but by giving to others you are also actually giving more to yourself.”
Dr. deTar, an ENT/Otolaryngology specialist and surgeon for St. Joseph’s Ear, Nose & Throat in Post Falls, had long wanted to participate in a mission outside the United States. Local nurse anesthetist Mike Oswald gave him that opportunity.
“He had been on many different trips in the past, and he had been (to Guatemala),” deTar said. “He really was the spearhead for me, to encourage me to go. He’d gotten it down to a system.”
“It could have been El Salvador or Mexico or really anywhere for me,” deTar continued. “I came away 10 days later tired but with a great feeling inside, thinking OK, I made a difference in people’s lives.”
Dr. deTar specializes in all fields of otolaryngology, including sinus surgery, chronic infections and allergies, trauma/reconstructive surgery and thyroid and parathyroid abnormalities. They traveled to Sololá, which is a town that sits on a mountainside facing Lake Atitlán in the southwest area of the country. The mission team consisted of deTar, Oswald, OR circulating RN nurse Emily Eves, recovery room RN nurse Ketty Musson and local Guatemalan MD Mario Euceda.
“(Mike) had visited the clinic on one of his previous trips and saw they had a real need,” deTar said. “There are many people in the community that have no finances for medical care.”
The team brought their own supplies and medical instruments, and they stayed in an apartment complex near the clinic.
“We all went down thinking ‘Let’s see how many patients we can see in a day,” deTar said. “I would spend about half the day seeing patients in the clinic and half the day performing surgery. It was a wide mix, from hearing loss to bad sore throats and chronic infections of sinuses.”
An especially memorable case was a woman in her 30s who had nine children. She had a large, benign lump pressing against her windpipe that needed to be surgically removed.
“She and her family were just so appreciative - it was really touching for us to see the impact it had on her,” he said. “The family brought us into their dirt floor home, and they gave us their rooster in exchange for her care.”
deTar remembers another patient he couldn’t immediately help but was able to help receive care as a result of a donation back home.
“There was a 16-year old girl with severe hearing loss, and unfortunately it wasn’t really a surgical problem - and she left the clinic crying,” deTar said. “But we got back home and a patient had donated a pair of hearing aids… (at the time) I didn’t really know how we were going to get her a good pair of hearing aids, but out of the goodness of someone’s heart, now she can hear.”
Dr. deTar plans to return to Guatemala in March. He hopes to do at least one medical mission a year and is thinking about how he’ll be able to help more after retirement. He said mission work is proving to be contagious among his partners and colleagues as well.
In March, deTar will take his daughter along for the mission. She is the last of deTar’s nine children to participate in some form of mission.
“I think it can change a child’s life,” he said. “(For a teenager), when they go on a mission and see how much we have here compared to others… happiness is not determined by what you have. Though poverty can really weigh you down, I’ve seen people who have very little but are very happy.”
A mission of faith
Danny Cleave is the youth pastor at The Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene. For the last few years he and his wife, Carissa, and others from the church have joined a broader, Texas-based organization for evangelical missions to Malawi, Africa.
Cleave’s journey there began with a dream, a literal dream, from Altar Pastor Tim Remington.
“The day I met Carissa, Pastor Tim came up and said he had a dream of her and I in Africa,” Cleave said. “About three years later we ended up getting married… our first anniversary was spent in Malawi, and we’ve been doing it every year since then.”
The 11-day trips are part of an effort to establish churches in these communities, with training provided for neighborhood pastors.
“There are medical and dental clinics set up, and there is AIDS testing, and we meet them at their door and talk to them about Christ,” Cleave said.
Cleave said the organizations provide funds to build churches and to bring supplies, including Bibles.
“Bibles are hard to get in their language; it’s not a real common language,” he said.
Cleave believes the establishment of churches and faith provide a valuable hub for community growth and fellowship in these towns.
“There are so many ways to improve so many attributes - there is so much that stems from the church and teachings,” Cleave said. “Working hard, loving people, sharing and helping people be better… it all starts with relationships with God.”
He said spending time in Malawi also provides a better perspective on what it means to be a community, and what should matter more in our own country.
“With community they are better at that than we are already… they are not so busy and burdened about technology,” Cleave said. “There is a lot they can actually teach us. Villages take care of each other. We see how happy they are there compared to how much we (as Americans) complain here.”
“It’s just an awesome experience,” he said. “It will change your life for the better.”