Physicians Complete Medical Mission Trip

Dr. Brittany Barker examines Gary, a child at an orphanage run by Love in Action International Ministries. (Provided photo)

Dr. Brittany Barker examines Gary, a child at an orphanage run by Love in Action International Ministries. (Provided photo)

ALTOONA- Two Altoona Family Physicians faculty – Debra Pike, MD, and Art Morrow, DO – and three third-year residents – Brittany Barker, DO, Timothy Romanoski, MD, and Jenna Stokes, DO – recently spent 14 days in Guayaramerin, Bolivia, on a medical missionary trip with Love in Action International Ministries (LIAIM).

AFP started planning the trip a year ago, as an outgrowth of the experience Pike had on three prior trips with LIAIM. On this fourth trip, Pike assisted at a C-section delivery, where she instructed the surgeon on a Pfannenstiel incision, also known as a “bikini line” incision – more aesthetic than the typical vertical incision.

“I was surprised by how much the parents knew about the procedure and how excited the husband was about it,” Pike said. “That welcoming attitude was there across the board from everyone we met, including the doctors and the nurses.”

The family medicine physicians performed physical checkups on the 40 children in the orphanage, its staff of about 20 adults and their families and made two home visits.

“We see people here at AFP who experience difficulties and have no health insurance,” said Barker. “But these people truly have nothing. One woman came in with a leaf on a cut for a bandage.”

The most common challenges involved managing uncommon disease processes: parasites, amoebas, dengue (caused by mosquito bite) and finding out what natural remedies the patient had been taking, said Stokes.

“Some patients we saw wanted a second opinion on their condition and others had never been to a doctor before in their life,” she said. “It was hard without our prescription pads; our biggest challenge was having limited medicines.”

Instead of pills, the doctors of osteopathic medicine had their hands to help provide relief from musculoskeletal pain and had many opportunities to practice that area of their specialty. Stokes said one of her most rewarding experiences was providing relief from head and neck pain to a 10-year-old girl who had been injured at age 4 in a motorcycle accident.

For Morrow, two home visits provided proof their trips make a difference. One 22-year-old man, paralyzed from the waist down, had been seen by Pike two years ago.

“There’s been a remarkable, positive change in him thanks to the care he’s received through Love in Action,” Pike said. The team left medicine and instructions for wound care.

The other home visit required traveling through the town at night, an experience Morrow described as “a cross between Disney rides, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, because of music, parties, lights, barking dogs and other scary stuff both on the streets and emanating from each hut in the darkness.”

Upon arrival he found a semi-conscious, elderly man in extreme pain from diverticulitis. A dose of antibiotics was given and by morning the man was pain-free and reoriented to his surroundings.

“He had totally turned around and recovered,” Morrow said.

The residents all agreed the experience improved their skills.  “I honed my interviewing skills and that’s what I brought back with me,” Romanoski said. “I am a better health investigator.”

LIAIM was founded in 1999 and opened its first orphanage, “Andrea’s Home of Hope and Joy,” in 2008 in memory of Andrea Zimmerman Mischel, the 30-year-old daughter of LIAIM founders Gary and Jerri Zimmerman.

During their daughter’s illness with cancer, the people they had ministered to throughout their missionary career joined with them in prayer. During this time, the Zimmerman’s solidified thoughts of specializing in a ministry focusing on children. Upon news of their daughter’s death, the church in Guayaramerin donated land for an orphanage for LIAIM’s use.

For more information on LIAIM, visit

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