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Woodbury doctor leads mission trip to the Philippines

Hundreds of people lined up outside of the hospital where a group of 77 medical professionals from the United States were in Alaminos to do surgery, outpatient procedures and education seminars. Submitted photos1 / 3
Dr. Bernard Quebral worked with local nurses in the Philippines on his last mission trip this month.2 / 3
Christy Schleper has already volunteered to go on the next mission trip to the Philippines in two years. She helped with hundreds of cleft palate surgeries during this year's trip.3 / 3

The first time Peggy Moore went to the Philippines on a medical mission trip, she didn't know what to expect.

When she saw a sea of people lined up outside of the hospital waiting to be seen by a doctor, she got teary-eyed, said the Woodbury Health Partners clinic licensed practical nurse.

Then she told Dr. Bernard Quebral, medical director of the clinic, that she would never complain about work again.

"People here in the United States, they would complain about a sore throat," she said. "They would come to the doctor that same day and want to be fixed."

But over in the Philippines, a country filled with malnutrition, lifelong diseases and terminal patients, it's a different story.

"There they can go years at a time with an illness and never even be treated for it," she said. "It could be cancer and they never get treated for it."

Moore was one of 77 medical professionals who went on a mission trip in February to two cities in the Philippines where they saw thousands of patients in 17 days.

The mission

The 2012 trip took place from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3.

Dr. Quebral, an internal medicine physician who's worked for the Woodbury clinic since 1998, has been leading the missions for 12 years.

Every two years, he gathers a group of pediatricians, nurses, lab technicians, dentists and surgeons from all over the nation to go on the trip.

Quebral's sixth mission this year was in Alaminos, his hometown, where hundreds of surgeries and procedures were done.

He finished off the trip with two days in Bataan, a province about three hours south of Alaminos.

Many of the patients had minor surgeries. The doctors also did 32 hysterectomies, 32 thyroidectomies and 60 plastic surgeries (mostly cleft palate and lip).

They gave away bout 2,000 eyeglasses, did 900 dental extractions and about 2,500 outpatient consultations.

Still Quebral doesn't do it for the numbers.

"We're not going there for volume; we're going there to save lives," he said. "Although the patients are not paying, we provide the same quality of care, the same as what we provide here."

Each member of the mission trip paid for their own airfare, while a local host provided accommodation and transportation for the group.

The group, sponsored by the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association, which helps with fundraising efforts, raised about $60,000 to fund the mission.

Additionally, area hospitals donated $1.6 million worth of medical equipment, Quebral said.

The hospital in Alaminos wasn't very well equipped, he said: it lacked supplies, proper beds and operating room machines.

"In this particular place, we only had one anesthesia machine ... and that's the same anesthesia machine that I donated eight years ago," Quebral said.

This time, they got a total of three, he added.

The need

Sheryl Haywood, lab technician for the clinic, went on the trip this year for the first time.

When Quebral would talk about the trip and tell the clinic how much it helps people, she couldn't help but be interested in going.

"It's one of those things that you felt in your heart was the right thing to do," she said.

Quebral said many of the people in his home country live below the poverty line and the government spends very little money on health care.

"A typical family of five to seven there makes about $8 a day," he said.

Many patients suffer from long-term illnesses like diabetes, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, arthritis and undiagnosed metastatic breast and ovarian cancer, he said.

"I saw a patient with cancer in the right knee, 22 years old, who will die most likely in the next four months," Quebral said.

"We had a patient who came in with a heart attack right in front of our eyes, who had waited four days because we were not there yet and practically stopped breathing while we were talking to him."

That 63-year-old patient was intubated and stabilized before the mission trip doctors transferred him to a bigger hospital.

As for the terminal patients, Quebral said they're given chronic pain medication, counseling sessions and sometimes money.

There was a patient who was suffering from liver cancer and had a few months to live, he said.

Her husband was going to prison because of medical bills and money he owed a number of hospitals that he couldn't pay back.

"We helped that family by giving half of what they owed and hopefully the husband will be free when the wife dies," Quebral said.

The doctor and his team said most chronic patients were in later stages, which is why the group focused highly on preventative medicine education.

Part of the mission is to teach people about family planning, smoking and alcohol use, Quebral said - more than 80 percent of the people seen on this year's trip were outpatient consults.


Although Quebral leads a mission trip every other year, it's not enough to completely equip all hospitals.

Haywood was responsible for teaching the hospital staff in Alaminos how to use the one cardiac ultrasound machine that they had.

She needed a model to show how to use the EKG machine. One of the staff members from the administration office volunteered.

Though he worked in a hospital, the volunteer later said he'd been having chest pains and couldn't afford to see a doctor, Haywood said. His results were abnormal.

"It was ironic, here showing hospital staff and expecting a normal result and adding another patient to Dr. Quebral's schedule that was already overloaded with patients," she added.

Preparing for 2014

Quebral is planning to go back to Bataan for surgeries since the group was only able to do outpatient work there.

The second location will be in Quezon, a little bit further east.

Christy Schleper, assistant care delivery supervisor at the clinic, is already planning to go again. She volunteered to lead the recovery nursing program.

She called it an "experience of a lifetime."

"It was amazing," she said. "I went in without having any expectation and it managed to exceed any that I could've ever imagined."

Schleper helped run four operating rooms simultaneously and while helping to complete 120 surgeries in one week.

Moore, who has gone on a total of five trips so far, said she's unsure whether she'll go on a sixth one or not. Then she remembered working with Pauline.

Pauline is a baby who had plastic surgery to fix her cleft lip that she was born with due to lack of prenatal care and nutrition.

She had surgery in Alaminos and came back for her follow-up with Moore six days later in Bataan.

"She was so happy, she could smile, she didn't have that look that was all crinkled up," Moore said. "It just was perfect.

"That's what makes it worth it, going over there to see a smiling baby."

Others who went on the trip from the Woodbury Health Partners Clinic were: Dr. Larry Condon, pediatrician, Erica Rodell, physician assistant, Dr. David Baram, obstetrics and gynecology and Elizabeth Aslesen, physician assistant.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.