A team of local physicians, case workers and volunteers recently returned from the Dominican Republic as part Guardians of Healing, a non-profit that embarks on an annual philanthropic trip to the Dominican Republic to provide medical supplies and surgical treatments free-of cost to the sick and the poor.
Two employees of Alaris Health at Castle Hill in Union City, one of whom graduated from high school here, accompanied the philanthropic mission. The program was started by Damaris Collado who has worked in Union City for 14 years. Her coworker, Yohandra Martin, also went on the journey. Yohandra works in Union City and lived there from 1983 to 2004. She went to Gilmore Elementary School in Union City and Emerson High School.
The program began in 1997 as the vision of Collado, the external case manager for Alaris Health at Castle Hill in Union City, who began returning to her hometown where she was born in the DR every year to donate expensive medicine to underserved communities and provide education on HIV to locals. Damaris realized the medical need stretched far beyond HIV education.
As Collado garnered local political support, the program grew and was officially launched as Guardians of Healing in 2008, as a non-profit with a team of more than 25 New Jersey volunteers.
Collado began recruiting volunteers from Alaris Health, including close friend and Alaris Health at Castle Hill Admissions Director, Yohandra Martin. With many of the physicians and volunteers also joining from Alaris Health, this year, the Alaris Foundation donated $2,000 to Guardians of Healing to show their support for the employees embarking on this giving back trip. Thanks to the donation, the team was able to treat more than 1800 patients – the most of any previous trip.
Martin joined the expedition because she has a 9-year-old daughter and wanted to instill in her a sense of giving back at a young age by setting an example.
To date, Collado and her team have treated and educated more than 12,000 patients, performed more than 1,000 complex surgeries, and raised more than $300,000 in funds for medical supplies and medicines.
The free-of cost surgeries ranged from hernias and gallbladders to complex urological and plastic reconstructive surgeries from the waist down – anything that could be performed using an epidural.
Some more quick facts about the program’s impact in the Dominican Republic:
• Dominicans suffer from many of the same chronic illnesses that are common in the US such as diabetes and hypertension; however, the team also encounters conditions more common in underdeveloped countries such as HIV, tuberculosis and parasitic infections. Thousands of locals die every year from simple afflictions due to a lack of access to surgeons, proper health education, money and/or transportation to a medical center.
• The program goes beyond similar treatment programs such as Doctors without Borders by including an educational component, where the team teaches local surgeons advanced techniques and empowers patients with health, safety and nutrition tips.
• With the mission site always being a rural, grossly underserved community, the team also arranges for transportation for patients who require more advanced treatment to Santo Domingo and sometimes even to the doctors’ hospitals in New Jersey.