Friday, September 12, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Completed Important Work on the USNS Mercy

David Eddy, Project HOPE's Operations Officer onboard the USNS Mercy Profiles Volunteer Lynne Bouffard

It was another rainy morning that turned hot and humid at the Waigani village, the primary care medical site in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. The local population had lined up as early as 0230 in the morning with hopes of receiving free medical care provided by the USNS MERCY health care provider teams. These teams were comprised of Navy staff, partner nation medical staff, Project HOPE volunteers and other international groups.

Project HOPE has once again supported the U.S. Navy in the Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) mission, Pacific Partnership 08 to Vietnam, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and the Federated States of Micronesia aboard the USNS MERCY Hospital ship. As the Operations Officer for this HCA mission I was blessed to have such a devoted and dynamic team of health care providers with me. Physicians, Pharmacist, Pediatric and Family Nurse Practitioners, Midwifes, Medical-Surgical Nurses, PACU Nurses and Nursing Educators from all over the U.S. brought a plethora of skills and talent. In all, Project HOPE brought 34 volunteers to these missions.

One of Winchester’s own, Dr. Lynne Bouffard, a Family Nurse Practitioner gave up 40 days of employment to volunteer her services to Project HOPE for this worthy cause. Because of Lynne’s expertise, she was used extensively in both the Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Micronesia medical missions that covered over 18 different sites for one to three day intervals.

Lynne’s typical day was getting up at 0430, eating a very small and limited breakfast, and reporting to the rallying point called Casualty Receiving area to muster (Navy word for accountability formation), and picking up her MRE for her lunch meal. MREs or Meals Ready to Eat are a high calorie meal in a plastic bag used on a regular basis by our military. After muster the boarding of the band-aid boats (a small Navy boat used to transport up to 20 people) would commence to transport all to shore. Transferring from one moving ship to another in the open sea can be a tricky, and it’s always a wet experience. Once ashore, all providers are moved across land by local buses to their designated work site. Everyday regardless of the site location the scene was the same. A line of people waiting in the morning rain sometimes extended more than a mile long on the muddy paths leading to the work site. Very few of the people wore shoes, but those that did displayed sandals that for the most part had been worn out some time ago. Tired and wet by the time they reached the front of the line to be treated, they always provided the greeting of the day with a big smile. More times than I can count the people would say to me and the rest of the providers, “Thank you for what you are doing for our people. God bless America”.

Respiratory illnesses in all age groups ranging from mild upper respiratory infection to tuberculosis, asthma, and pneumonia are quite common. Malaria in PNG is an enormous issue. HIV rates are high, and leprosy a disease uncommon in the U.S. is also an issue.

The team by the end of each day had seen over a thousand people. At 4:30pm, all equipment would be packed up for the return to the port to be transported back to the USNS MERCY ship. Dinner, the Commodore’s daily update, and Project HOPE's daily review meant that Lynne and the rest of our volunteers were free to shower and go to bed after 8:30PM. A long day for anyone, and certainly a long day for a volunteer that has traveled so far from home to provide medical care to a people that seldom ever see a health care provider.

As long as the days were, Lynne never complained once. Every evening when I would ask her how her day was, she would always smile and indicate “I had a great day”. While her experience was great, she and the rest of us paid an emotional price for the suffering from illnesses and injuries that we witnessed on a continual basis. You can’t help but lose a piece of your heart to these very sick children and adults. While Lynne’s stories could be many, she was humbled just to be in their presence and to assist them in their time of need.

The people of Winchester can be very proud of what Lynne and many like her do out of the kindness of their own heart. We at Project HOPE are blessed to have such professionals represent us every single day in these endeavors. They give up their jobs, vacation, and retirement to support such a noble calling. Project HOPE's credibility and legacy are a direct reflection of their absolute professionalism and the spirit of American volunteerism.

Lynne is no stranger to volunteerism. she was the first nurse practitioner hired by the Northern Shenandoah Free Medical Clinic to provide care to the working poor. She continued to volunteer at the clinic for over 7 years while working at Selma Cardiovascular Associates in Winchester . In 2006 she was awarded the Free Medical Clinic Volunteer of the Year. she presently lives in Fredericksburg with her husband David and children Jennifer and Jonathan

David A. Eddy
Pacific Partnership Operations Officer
Project HOPE

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