By Stephen J. Kotz
The 23-year-old Sag Harbor resident and graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, who plans to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant, discusses an upcoming medical mission trip to aid the indigenous people living in the Amazon River basin outside Iquitos, Peru.
What does your upcoming trip to Peru entail?
The organization I’m going with is called Project Amazonas. It’s a nongovernmental organization that works primarily in the northeast region of Peru, the Amazon River lowlands. We leave on Friday [April 21] and come back the 12th of May. It will be 14 nights and 15 days of volunteer work. We’ll spend 12 nights on the Amazon River. We’ll be going from village to village, providing education and care, helping to fill in the gaps, helping teach them about hygiene, screen for parasites, viruses and any type of bacterial infections that are all too common in these regions.
I’ll give you a few examples: 64 percent of the people living there do not boil their drinking water. That’s pretty alarming because it’s not like they have access to clean water. Thirty four to 50 percent of people don’t know mosquitoes are the vector that transmits yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever and now zika. Only 23 percent of people know HIV is transmitted by sexual contact.
We understand this is not your first medical mission trip. What others have you gone on?
In 2015 I went to Zambia with a team of surgeons, many from Southampton Hospital through a Bridge for Peace in coordination with Raphael Ministries. They performed operation after operation. The people had an idea we were coming, so they came to us. We screened each patient to see what we could do to help them. We also went through the wards of the hospital bed to bed, seeing the patients, what we could do to help, and then booked procedures. We did six or seven procedures each day.
I’ve been volunteering at hospitals since my freshman year in college and I had the opportunity to shadow some surgeons at Southampton Hospital, so I was not being thrown into a situation where I had never seen a surgery before it. I roomed with Dr. James Brady and we worked hand in hand. It was one of the best opportunities I could ever have. I would have never been able to do that in America. It got me very interested in surgery as well.
What is it about traveling abroad to do this kind of work that appeals to you?
I’ve done plenty of work in hospitals before in the United States. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, but you encounter so many patients who are so ungrateful even though you are doing your best to give them medical care. When you are traveling abroad and working with an under-served population, anything you do is so greatly appreciated. It just hits your heart in a way that is hard to describe. It’s a beautiful thing. These people don’t have much at all, yet they want to do so much for you. They’d take the shirt of their back and give it to you. There is such a fine line between life and death, and you can really be the person pushing someone toward life. I think that to me is what is so rewarding about working in places like this.
This is going to be my second trip, but it won’t be my last. Some day I want to start my own non-profit organizations. I want to continue making these trips and meeting people and making an impact. It’s cool to travel outside the country, leave your comfort zone and put yourself on the line in some way.
How are you paying for this trip?
Upfront is out of pocket. This trip will cost about $4,000 in total, for the flight, the participation costs and the food. I’ve started a gofundme campaign that has raised about $2,200 so far and I’m hoping to be able to cover the rest.
To contribute to Mr. McMahon’s trip, visit gofundme.com/peruvian-amazon-medical-mission .