For Geisinger family practice physicians Gary Russell, MD, and his wife, Susan Russell, MD, traveling around the world to volunteer in medically underserved areas was not a difficult decision.
“Serving patients in need is something we’ve always agreed on,” said Dr. Gary Russell. “Our faith leads us to serve by providing medical care to the most needy while sharing the hope we have in Christ."
Over the last 13 years, the Russells, who both practice at Geisinger Nicholson, have made missionary trips together to Haiti, Kenya and Togo to treat patients and teach local medical providers. Susan has also traveled to the Gabonese Republic and Gary to Iraq, where he recently worked as part of a disaster assistance response team. The trips are coordinated through World Medical Missions, which is a branch of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian aid organization (see accompanying article).
Same diseases, but fewer medical resources
In Kenya, the Russells found people suffering from many of the same ailments that plague Americans, such as hypertension, diabetes and coronary artery disease.
“The difference is that when they do seek medical care, they are usually much sicker, and there are fewer resources available to treat them,” said Dr. Gary Russell, a Geisinger employee for 24 years. “As a result, we saw more people dying of common diseases than we are used to seeing in the United States.” To help meet the vast need for medical supplies, the Russells delivered to local hospitals four cases of donations from Geisinger.
Volunteering in a war zone
In Iraq, Dr. Gary Russell worked in a makeshift tent hospital that Samaritan’s Purse erected 10 miles east of Mosul. It treated military patients from all sides, as well as civilian victims of land mines, bombings and other catastrophes. Though shelling and sniper fire occurred routinely nearby, the field hospital itself was very secure, he said. To date, the hospital has treated more than 2,000 patients and completed 1,500 surgeries, all at no cost to patients.
The couple, who have two children in medical school and one who is a nurse, said that small kindnesses can make a big difference. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to show a little love to people who are caught up in hostility,” Dr. Gary Russell said.