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KSB Doctors Serve in the Philippines

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Dr. Yolanda Dela Cruz, (left, glasses) trains an anesthesiology student in a Filipino operating room. (Photo provided)

DIXON, Ill. – KSB Medical Group physicians Eugenio Mendoza, MD, and Yolanda Dela Cruz, MD, have been returning to the Philippines nearly every year since the mid-1980s, part of medical/surgical missions to bring much-needed health care to their homeland’s poorest citizens.

“I’ve been doing this every year since 1985,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I do it as part of my society, the Society for Philippine Surgeons in America. We go there and give free services, medical and surgical, to the indigent, the very poor.

“We go to remote areas where there is no healthcare or the people there can’t afford it. We also give lectures to the local medical community and teach and train them.”

Dr. Mendoza, who has been a member of the KSB staff since 2008, was part of a group of 30-35 medical professionals who in January went to the community of Bacolod City. It is located along the west coast of the island of Visayas, one of the three largest islands where most Filipinos live.

Dr. Mendoza was born on the northern most island, Luzon, but grew up in the capital city of Manila. Dr. Dela Cruz, on the other hand, grew up on the southern most island, Mindanao. She has been back to Mindanao for at least one mission.

Her most recent one, organized through the Philippine Medical Association of Chicago, was to Bantayan Island, which is located north of and between Negros and Cebu Islands. More than 7,100 islands make up the country.

“We had to go by plane, then three hours by bus and finally two hours by ferry to reach the island,” Dr. Dela Cruz explained. “It’s in a very rural, very remote area. I’d much rather go to a small, remote area where the people really need you.

“We had to fly in our own equipment, our own supplies and medications. I went this time with a classmate of mine from residency whose hometown is Bantayan. Two of us were manning the operating room. It’s like going back 50 years in time.”

The destination of Dr. Mendoza’s 2011 medical mission, Bacolod City, is a much larger city, about the size of Rockford, with many more poor people looking for any type of healthcare services.

The group saw about 1,000 patients during its week in the Philippines, and performed 400 to 500 surgeries, including removing tumors and breast masses, repairing hernias and fixing hair lips on babies.

“If we don’t go there, many of these people will die because they cannot afford medical care,” Dr. Mendoza said. “They communicate our arrival ahead of time and the people know when we’re coming.

“They line up in an auditorium and we screen them to make sure they really cannot afford to pay for their medical care. We bring along medications and we write out prescriptions, and then the people go to our dispensary to get them filled.”

With the amount of work required to transport everything from the U.S. to the Philippines, there always is a need for volunteers in addition to the medical professionals.

While Dr. Dela Cruz’s husband, Chester, a neurologist, often accompanies her on missions, her three sons, A.J., Dan and Matt, have made it a family affair on more than one occasion.

“We do everything. We have a complete medical unit,” Dr. Dela Cruz said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding. All three of our sons came with us back in 2005, and the last one Dan came along as a runner to carry stuff. He wants to go back again.”

Both Dr. Mendoza and Dr. Dela Cruz agree that they feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to practice medicine in the United States.

Whether they are delivering medical care on a remote island or in a big, inner city, they look at the annual medical missions as one way they can give back to the communities from which they came.

“Taking care of people who can’t afford it or conducting CME’s to the local doctors and training them, whatever it is, it makes you feel good,” Dr. Mendoza said. “It makes you feel good to give back to your home country.

“I’m blessed to be associated with KSB,” he added. “They let me go in my free time and they support me in my trips. That’s why I’m still at KSB. I appreciate the treatment they give us.”

Dr. Dela Cruz, who has been on staff at KSB since 2003, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s fun and it’s also rewarding,” she added. “When you see these people and how grateful they are that you came to treat them, it makes the whole trip worthwhile. So much has been given to me that I want to give back.”

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