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Published on December 25, 2014

Jacksonville doctors take medical mission trip to Jamaica: 'Big smiles, so much gratitude'

By Beth Reese Cravey, The Florida Times-Union

Jacksonville surgeon Kenneth Jones had help from high-placed friends in the Caribbean and at home when he decided to stage a medical mission trip to a poor, rural area of Jamaica.

For two years, Jones said, he discussed the idea with his longtime friend Errand Miller, husband of Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. He ultimately obtained the prime minister’s support, then started planning.

Jones also sought help from Moody Chisholm, CEO of St. Vincent’s HealthCare, where he practices. St. Vincent’s ended up providing 95 percent of all of the needed supplies and helped Jones buy equipment and medications at discounted prices, according to Jones.

The outcome was a team of about 30 doctors and medical professionals, as well as support staff, who spent Nov. 8-16 at clinics and hospitals in Hanover, Jamaica.

They treated 626 patients who otherwise would have gone without care.

“We only treated patients without private insurance who were on the waiting list for at least two years,” he said. “The patients were so appreciative, they thanked us for being there and asked us to come back.”

The group is going back.

Jones, who was born in Guyana and has practiced in Jacksonville since 1983, said he already is planning another trip in November. The Jamaica medical mission is now one of the Northeast Florida Medical Society of Jacksonville’s two major projects, he said.

The Jamaican health system has excellent physicians but they are overwhelmed, have limited facilities and not enough specialists, he said.

Another team member, Jacksonville physician David Doward, agreed.

The Jamaican health-care system, he said, appears to have many inefficiencies, including insufficient staff and training and lack of physicians.

“They are also behind in terms of the latest technological advances for specialized procedures and surgeries,” Doward said. “If we didn’t come, many of these patients would not have received the quality of life and in some cases critical lifesaving treatment that we offered.”

The medical team featured general surgeons, a plastic surgeon, obstetrics and gynecology physicians, family practice physicians, a pediatrician, an internal medicine physician, an anesthesiologist, a dentist and a psychiatrist, as well as physician assistants, surgical technicians, nurse practitioners and two residents.

Donated equipment and medical supplies were shipped to Jamaica in advance.

The team treated people at six clinics and performed surgeries at three hospitals.

Surgeons treated 23 patients, the OB/GYN team treated about 20 patients, the dentist treated about 30 patients and the plastic surgeon treated 20 patients, according to Jones. Also, 32 patients were given help with pain management.

Among the patients’ medical problems were hernias, uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian masses, Jones said. The plastic surgeon on the team also assisted people who had acid burns to the face, he said.

Doward, who has practiced for eight years at Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute, provided musculoskeletal care, treating patients with back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, and foot and hand issues.

“I was giving pain-reducing steroid injections and showing them specific stretches and strengthening exercises,” he said.

“I was a big hit because of the type of care I was providing. If you can imagine suffering with arthritic knees for years — especially if your primary means of transportation is walking in rural areas — and then walking out of the doctor’s office pain-free after one injection.

“Big smiles. So much gratitude from all the patients,” Doward said.

The Jamaican trip was his first medical mission and held special significance because he grew up in the Caribbean — St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Now he plans to be part of Jones’ Jamaican mission trip every year.

“What really drew me to the trip was the location. The whole idea of helping the people of the Caribbean who have no or limited access to medical care was too much to pass up,” he said.

“The opportunity to give back to the people of the Caribbean struck a chord with me.”

View the story: http://jacksonville.com/news/health-and-fitness/2014-12-25/story/jacksonville-doctors-take-medical-mission-trip-jamaica-big