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Mission proves to be challenging and rewarding for city residents

July 15, 2002|by Liz Boch

lizb@herald-mail.com

After living in a Peruvian convent with hot pink toilet paper but no toilet seats, two Hagerstown residents said they returned appreciating American life.

Jay Frantz, 61, and Mary Anne Day, 52, traveled to Lima, Peru, for 19 days in June with Medical Ministry International (MMI), a group that provides medical assistance to South American and Caribbean countries.

They lived in a convent in the Rimac section of Lima, the section considered the least wealthy. The group established a clinic where residents received care ranging from prescriptions for upset stomachs to surgical procedures for the Peruvian equivalent of $1, Frantz said.

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From 7:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, Frantz took the vital signs of about 1,800 patients and Day filled prescriptions in the pharmacy.

Neither are medical professionals. Frantz, an employee at Wright-Gardner Insurance Inc., has only vocational training in emergency medicine. Day, an attorney, has "no training whatsoever." They took vacation time to serve as volunteers in Peru.

Day said without MMI's help, many would not receive care.

"If you don't have money, you get well on your own or you get worse and die," she said. "There's no safety net. When you go in the hospital, you bring your own IVs, your own linens, your own prescriptions."

Frantz said he volunteers in foreign countries because, in some ways, the people need more help than those in the United States. He remembered one young Peruvian girl with a kidney infection that needed medication.

"She was only 12 or 14, and had we not paid her hospital bills, she would have died," he said.

Both Frantz and Day said adjusting to another culture requires flexibility. At one point, neither Frantz nor Day had showered in two days.

"The first night, the cooks made us chicken soup with chicken feet in the soup. They learned pretty quickly that Americans don't like chicken feet in soup," she said. "The next night we had cold, split hot dogs."

Both Frantz and Day have traveled with MMI before. Frantz has been to the Dominican Republic twice, Ecuador, Jamaica and Guatemala. Day went with Frantz on one of the trips to the Dominican Republic.

"The hospital I was at in the Dominican Republic only gets used really for the two weeks MMI was there," Frantz said. "We're so fortunate in this country. We have water you can drink, water we can shower with. We had to shower with our mouths closed because the water wasn't clean enough."

Both Frantz and Day said they plan to travel with MMI again, possibly to Argentina.

Day said anyone thinking of traveling with a group like MMI must consider the conditions of the trip.

"They really need to think about the accommodations," she said. "While you have doctors present, high-tech medical care is just not available. If you can't deal with strangers and laugh, don't go."

Frantz said he came home understanding how blessed he was.

"I have a very nice life and for that, you owe something back," he said. "You get a real appreciation for how nice your life is here at home."

Day said she feels like she did something useful.

"There's some real personal gratification that comes and it's fun," she said. "When you can stand in a hot shower for 10 minutes and not worry about huge bugs, you've learned how grateful you are."

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