Dr. Ron Baker, a Berrien Springs physician, led a group of eight volunteers on a medical mission to Sierra Leone in West Africa.
Baker said the mission was grueling as the team performed 88 procedures in seven days. Seventy-five of those procedures were cataract surgeries. “Over there, there are no ophthalmologists to take out cataracts,” he said. The volunteers, each of whom paid $2,000 to make the trip, did so simply for the experience and the heartfelt thanks of natives.The people were tremendously grateful. That’s what made it worthwhile for me, their appreciation,” the 58-year-old Baker said. “There was one guy that was crippled. We really conldn’t do anything for him, but he sent us a goat.”
Baker served as facilitator for the mission, conducted under the auspices of Vision Outreach International. He was joined by his son, Jeff; a nurse in College Station, Texas; and Drs. David Brown, Michael Seward, and an ophthalmology technician, Tom Fisher, all of whom serve with Great Lakes Eye Care in St. Joseph, MI. Eleanor Datema, Roger Cabe and Cabe’s 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, were also a part of the team.
Baker said the weather was hot and humid, as expected, making the 10-hour, 180-mile trip over a bad road between Freetown and Mattru all the more unpleasant. In Mattru, the team worked in a hospital where the staff hadn’t been paid in two months.
Africans are compassionate, yet they’re so used to death over there. They see so much of it,” he said. “Half the kids die before they reach the age of 5.”
It was gratifying, Baker said, to find out he’s still remembered for past humanitarian deeds. He said one man walked 10 miles to thank him for a surgery he had performed in 1988. The man’s reward? A chicken, which quickly was turned into a team dinner.
As a part of their surgeries the team had an opportunity to pray and encourage many individuals. During the post-op check-ups, Dr. Brown shared a short talk about Jesus’ having compassion for the blind poor and we just want to walk in the steps of Christ.