Dr. Bourne addresses patients and families on the first day of a 2009 medical mission trip to Chiapas, Mexico. Mammoth anesthesiologist Wayne Anderson, far right. Dr. Victoria Mohr center.
Dr. Andrew Bourne was not the only Mammoth doctor to contribute his free time to help people in need. At least one of those doctors intends to make sure the work Bourne started continues far into the future.
Mammoth Hospital’s orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Karch traveled and worked with Bourne on his last medical mission to Mexico in late 2011, along with many other Mammoth medical providers.
Karch, Bourne’s niece Dr. Sierra Bourne, and local writer and fellow traveler David Page are setting up a nonprofit that will take Bourne’s vision of helping rural mountain communities receive high-level medical care.
Called the “Andrew C. Bourne M.D. Mammoth Medical Missions,” the nonprofit is already planning its first trip—to the birthplace of Mammoth local Wangdowa Sherpa, a small village located in the remote highlands of Nepal (Bourne was Deanna Dulen’s (Sherpa’s wife) doctor and had already been planning a trip to Sherpa’s village this fall).
For his part, Karch comes by his interest in this medical mission work from raw experience.
Eleven years ago, he was one of the first doctors on the scene of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers. At the time, he was practicing medicine in Washington, D.C. He and the emergency room team of his hospital were called to get ready for 250 patients after the Pentagon, located just across the river, was hit by another plane.
“The first response to a disaster in Washington D.C. is to shut the bridges,” he said. “We were on the other side of the river.”
Instead of 250 patients, they only received one who was severely burned and smelled of diesel fuel.
“All the rest were dead,” he said.
Frustrated with his enforced inaction, Karch acted. He told his supervisor he was leaving to go help victims of the Twin Towers attack. When the supervisor balked, asking about possible incoming victims, he said, “I can’t do anything here, everyone is already dead.”
He grabbed a backpack, water filter, and as much medical gear as he could fit in the pack and headed out.
He spent the next four days with almost no sleep and little relief attending to the victims of the carnage that was Ground Zero. He had never done anything like it before, but he knew, despite the horror, he wanted to again.
When Bourne organized a second trip to Mexico in 2011, Karch went.
The reason to practice medicine
“This is why we go into medicine in the first place,” Karch said. “No insurance companies, no politics, no bureaucracy, just people needing help. This is what all my experience, all my training, has been preparing me for.”
Nepal is just the first of many trips Mammoth Medical Missions intends to make.
“This unit would not only suffice in standard mission trips like the one that we just completed in Chiapas, Mexico, but also be ready for a rapid deployment to both domestic and foreign, natural and man-made disaster areas,” Karch, who returned this week from more emergency and disaster training in San Francisco, said.
“In other words, as a self-contained, nonprofit, non-governmental organization, we can be quicker and more nimble than the larger machine that exists with the Federal DMAT (Disaster Medical Action Teams). It took DMAT 72 hours to deploy to Ground Zero and almost a week for Katrina. Further, DMAT is not specifically a surgical strike team and is severely understaffed with regards to orthopedic trauma specialists.”
But he also said the nonprofit status will allow invaluable connections to larger emergency response organizations (with their correspondingly larger supply chain and resources).
“Our NGO will need to be registered with … the American College of Surgeons, the Academy of Emergency Room Physicians, as well as the federal government, such that we are recognized as an independent but legitimate agency,” Karch said. “In this way, we can benefit from both federal supplies as well as military security, once those systems are in place.”
And this time, he has the full blessing of his boss.
“As a public agency, Mammoth Hospital cannot financially support the endeavors of these wonderful missions,” said Gary Boyd, Mammoth Hospital’s CEO.
“However, we are happy our physicians and staff take time off to help others in need. Their work is life changing to the people they help on these missions. I salute them.”
Page, a translator for past trips, said building a permanent endowment to further Bourne’s vision will also give traveling medical teams the ability to do work that avoids the trap of acting as a placebo “to cover up bigger problems.”
“A permanent endowment gives us more leverage, gives us a way to enhance on-going relationships,” Page said.
He said Mammoth has a unique pool of unusually physically capable medical practitioners and volunteers that gives the new nonprofit a highly unusual versatility and flexibility.
“Wangdowa’s village is a two-day trek on foot with porters carrying the medical supplies just to get there,” he said. “This is a whole different kind of thing from even Chiapas.”
There aren’t many people who could do this work, who have the physical capabilities, who have the survival training for extreme environments and isolation, he said. But the Eastern Sierra is full of them; extreme athletes that are also medical professionals.
This first trip to Nepal will likely be relatively small scale, with only a half dozen or so people.
“Andy was always very ambitious,” he said with a laugh. “I think we will start smaller to ensure we succeed to start with.”
Sherpa was born in the small village of Phapre in the highlands of Nepal. Located at 7,900 feet, the village has about 350 residents, including Sherpa’s brother and his seven children. There is no electricity, meaning the traveling medical team will need to bring everything they need, including a generator and medical tent, with them.
“There is no hospital, no clinic, and most people cannot afford to travel to the capital for medical help,” Sherpa said. “Most of them are farmers. So there are a lot of problems, skin conditions, a lot of things like this.”
He’s hoping Mammoth Medical Missions can perform some minor surgeries and alleviate some of the suffering.
“I think this is a beautiful idea,” he said.
“It’s just a beautiful idea.”