Many employees of DCMH volunteer their time and resources in Greensburg and beyond. This is a story of two employees who believe that their mission is to create a better world for others less fortunate. They inspire others to do the same.
Shelly Walsman, FNP at Tree City Medical Partners
Shelly is affiliated with a group called CASA POR CHRISTO, who builds homes for families and builds relationships between volunteers, communities, and pastors. She takes two mission trips a year and pays for all of her travels herself. She has been to Haiti, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Africa, as well as places within the US. In Guatemala, some of the volunteers build houses in San Remo and San Juan Sacatepequez while she teaches birthing attendants, the women who help with childbirth. These attendants have no medical degrees or certificates; the information they know has been passed down to them from their mothers. These attendants are of all ages, but they are willing to learn.
Shelly explains that as a teacher, she has to be respectful of the culture while introducing new techniques in order to decrease infant mortality. She uses a Spanish interpreter, and there is a lot of hands-on training. She covers 3 topics: helping babies survive after birth, helping mothers survive after birth and the importance of a clean environment. She shows how to handle the umbilical cord, how and when to use ventilation (Ambu) bag, how to determine if mothers need medicine after birthing, and how to prepare a clean area for the birth.
Shelly stresses to the assistants that when they go to a home, they need to make sure there is a vehicle, driver, gas, and cell phone available for calling the hospital. If a mother or baby has to go to the hospital, they are packed into the vehicle, and the birthing attendant goes with them to the hospital. The other option is to wait over an hour for the ambulance to arrive and then take the hour-long trip back to the hospital. Time is precious. Life is precious.
Shelly knows she is making an impact and helping to decrease infant and mother mortality rates. When she first came to these communities in Guatemala, the assistants would not talk about losing a baby or mother, but it definitely happened. Now, she hears stories of thriving and surviving. So much work can be done in one week and the knowledge she imparts stays with the assistants, helping the community as a whole.
On other days off, Shelly has also volunteered with organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse International Disaster Relief, local jail ministries, and other natural disaster relief missions. She encourages others to volunteer. It isn’t important how educated one is, it’s more about faith and willingness to share that faith and give to others in need
Mary McCullough, MD at Tree City Medical Partners
For fourteen years, Dr. McCullough has traveled to Gandou, Haiti with a mission group from St Anthony’s parish in Morris, Indiana. She is part of the medical mission that began through Parish Twinning Program of the Americas which matches a Catholic parish in the US with a parish in a Caribbean country or Latin America.
She is part of a large group that includes medical and eye doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, LPNs, and behind-the-scenes volunteers. Everyone from all over the United States, plus a few from Mexico, meet up in Miami and then fly to Port-au-Prince. From there, they take smaller planes to Jac Mel and drive up the mountains to Gandou.
They have never had any real trouble traveling, although once their engine stopped working on their way down the mountain. Her husband took a hose off the windshield wiper fluid container, hooked it onto the broken engine, and got them down the mountain to the airport. She says that sometimes their trip is delayed due to political unrest in the region.
It is a four hour trip down the mountain and seven hours to the nearest medical facility, so part of their trip is dedicated to training midwives and nurses. Medicine and supplies are left to be used between trips. There are four providers who each see 300 patients a day, for one week.
When Dr. McCullough first started, the group was only medical doctors and they had to take over the school for the week so they could attend to the villagers. Because there was no electricity, they had to use lanterns and flashlights at night. They didn’t work too late, however, because the people had to walk home in the dark, which was dangerous; the homes are scattered all over the mountainside.
Through the years, the number of volunteers and the entire program has grown. There is still no electricity, but they have generators now, which the dentists need for everything they do. The rectory has solar panels, and just about everyone has a cell phone. The reception is good on the mountain, the minutes are cheap, and solar chargers are readily available. Work has begun on a medical clinic so the students can still attend school while the doctors are seeing patients.
Gandou is mostly an agricultural community of 10,000 people, and now the mission program has grown so much that $160 will provide a child one year of school, one meal every school day, plus vitamins, fluoride treatments, and worm medicine. There are now almost 400 kids in school, and the number increases each year. Dr. McCullough smiles when she says anyone can tell the difference between the kids who go to school and those who don’t. The school kids are healthy, but she wants to see all the kids healthy and in school. And that is why she goes back each year, to see the progress being made. She can actually see the difference she and the team have made.