A small community called Loma Negra on the western coast of Peru is a place with stray mange dogs and trash lining the streets, roofs falling apart on thatch houses, dirt floors and an unclean water source. Dr. Andy Laughlin led a team of 16 LCU pre-medical students, several medical professionals, and various special interest individuals to this poverty stricken community that rarely hosts US visitors.
While on this all-to-short one-week medical mission trip, Laughlin and the team set up a clinic to provide medical, dental, vision, and physical therapy care to underprivileged Peruvians. In totals the team served 461 Peruvians in eye glass fittings, 153 for dental care, 732 for medical care, 51 for physical therapy, and 483 children, all in one week. The Peruvians would form lines outside of the clinic, sleeping outside at the wall, waiting in hopes to see a doctor, perhaps for the first time.
“I don’t know what happened to him, we are still waiting,” said Dr. Andy Laughlin reflecting on one of the many patients cared for that week. Left with no money and unable to see a doctor, a Peruvian man with a large tumor on his face had traveled a great distance to visit the medical clinic these American’s had set up in the small community of Loma Negra. LCU alum, Dr. Tom Basye (’83) analyzed the man and confirmed the aggressive tumor had invaded his nasal cavity and would soon have lethal concerns. Morally uncomfortable with only telling this man to get to a doctor, Dr. Basye asked him to ride the bus back with the medical team so they could get him help. They convinced the hospital to get the man a biopsy and arranged for an organization to take care of this man.
“Had that man left the clinic and had Dr. Basye not done way more than he needed to do, I am quite confident that man would have died, and he still may,” said Dr. Laughlin.
This man is only one of the many stories the medical team brought back with them from Peru. Another Peruvian man, blind and in pain, came to the clinic to get help through physical therapy. Physical therapist Toby Rogers (’95) and Chris Huggins (’04) decided to do more than treat this man’s pain temporarily; that night they bought a walker and gave it to him the next morning. Not realizing the walker was his, the man exclaimed, “I wish I could have one,” then cried when the LCU alums told him it was his.
Dr. Laughlin and the team worked closely with a local minister, Oscar Castro, and his wife, Anna, that week.
“One of the things I’m trying to do is get to know the community more, get to know Oscar more. If we’re going to make a long term commitment in Loma Negra, I need to know how they live,” commented Dr. Laughlin. “We need to know what their everyday life is like before we make suggestions or recommendations. We need to know the people of Loma Negra.”
To accomplish this goal, Laughlin decided to take a day off from the clinic, which was doing well, and spend it volunteering his manual labor for Oscar and the church. Laughlin and six students spent that day disassembling the church post by post and moving it to a new location so that it could be enlarged and have the possibility of a bathroom in the future.
Early that week, Oscar told Laughlin that he was planning on baptizing a young Peruvian and he hoped Laughlin could perform the baptism. Friday morning Laughlin joined Oscar and the church at the river, intending on baptizing one Peruvian and resulting in baptizing ten.
“It was not our purpose to do that, but the opportunity was there and due to that, ten lives will enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Laughlin humbly stated. “God works wonderfully and often times he uses us in ways we are not expecting.”
The pre-medical students who gave up their first week of summer to save the Peruvians returned having saved themselves, as Dr. Laughlin put it. They learned valuable and irreplaceable medical knowledge, and gained a new perspective on the world.
“Being in each (medical) area made me respect each profession and understand how each profession works. I am thankful I got the opportunity to rotate and help out in each area. This week has changed my life,” said LCU pre-med student and daughter of LCU alum Nicole (Kunkel) Shields (’08), Nalexus Kunkel. “Before I left, I thought I would learn a lot about the medical field and maybe pick up some Spanish. I was wrong. I learned so much more. Seeing the people, their conditions, their life style, made me appreciate everything I have. My perspective of the way I live my life changed.”
The trip to Peru not only changed the students’ lives and impacted the lives of the Peruvians they served, but the students also left a remarkable impression on the medical professionals.
“(The pre-med students) were all so professional and mature at all times,” said Dr. Jack Dyer, medical doctor and board member for Olive Branch Ministries. “They were great ambassadors for the university and a great reflection of those who are molding them.”
“I can't overstate the quality of the students on this trip,” exclaimed Jessica Rogers (’96), LCU chemistry professor. “I never heard a complaint about the work they were asked to do, the conditions they were asked to live and work in, or the places they were assigned. They approached each other, their leaders and the Peruvian people with love and patience at every turn.”