A three-generation medical mission teaches compassion.
Ron Michaelson may have passed his interest in health care to his son, but the son is the one who organized a medical mission trip in February that involved three generations of the clan.
Huntington Woods orthopedic surgeon Jeff Michaelson brought his father, Ron, and his two older children, Dalia and Noah, along when he went on a medical mission trip to the Philippines in early February. For Jeff and Dalia, it was their second such trip.
Jeff, 48, works with Oscar Ong, a nurse anesthetist at Providence Hospital, who was born in Davao, a city on one of the Philippines’ outer islands. For many years, Ong spent a winter week helping the hospital in his hometown. In 2004, he brought other volunteers from the hospital — doctors, nurses and nurse-anesthetists — with him, and Operation Care Abroad was born.
Jeff had heard about Ong’s trips and, in 2016, when his daughter, Dalia, was in eighth grade, he thought joining the medical mission would be a good way for them to spend meaningful time together.
This year Jeff returned to Davao with Dalia, 16, now a sophomore at Berkley High, his 14-year-old son, Noah, an eighth-grader at Detroit Country Day School, and his dad, Ron, an endodontist from West Bloomfield.
It wasn’t a vacation trip. The travel alone, via Japan and Manila, took more than 24 hours each way. The volunteers paid for their own airfare and personal expenses and brought most of their own equipment and supplies, as well as donated clothing, toys and books.
Every morning at 7 a.m. a van picked them up from their hotel and brought them to the South Philippines Medical Center, where Jeff and Ron performed surgeries and taught medical residents. Dalia and Noah visited with pediatric patients, bringing them stuffed dolls made by members of Greater Detroit Hadassah, where their mother, Jackie, is a regional vice president. The teens also observed several surgeries. “They were troupers,” Ron said.
Dalia and Noah usually worked until 4 or 4:30 p.m., but Jeff and Ron kept going until 6 p.m. or later. Patients looking for treatment line up in a waiting room with no air conditioning, and team members see as many as they can.
Ron was the first endodontist to visit the hospital and dental residents were eager to learn from him. “We were busy from morning till night,” he said. “I didn’t even have time to go out for a walk.”
Before the trip, Dalia and Noah mounted a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for medical equipment for the hospital, which lacks even the basics. Ron recalled a woman waiting for a dental procedure who was told to go the pharmacy first to buy the sutures she would need. Luckily, the volunteers had brought sutures with them.
Dahlia and Noah also collected books and toys for younger patients.
“The children’s ward was very sad,” said Ron. “It was more like a gym, with beds lined up in rows. Sometimes there were two patients on one gurney.”
The hospital’s resident physicians and nurse anesthetists-in-training were smart and hard-working, he said, but they lacked some of the basic equipment Americans take for granted.
Spending a week at the hospital was “truly a mission,” he said. “The patients and resident physicians were so appreciative. It made the trip so worthwhile.”
Jeff’s youngest child Daniel, 10, was upset that he wasn’t included. Jeff promised to do it again in a few years so Daniel can continue the family tradition.