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By Merrian J. Brooks, DO, MS

I am writing this from my new desk as the lead pediatrician and research director for the Botswana UPENN Partnership. Botswana, a country the size of the US state of Texas with a population of a little more than 2 million people is one of my global health homes. The other is Jamaica.

10 years ago I graduated from medical school and I have been reflecting on my journey in medicine. Unlike some, I didn’t always want to be a physician. I admired scientists like Mae Jamison and Marie Curie, women who changed the world with their scientific contributions.  Then, as an undergraduate student, I discovered my passion for medicine during a study abroad semester in Ghana. I was a volunteer at the University of Ghana, Legon hospital. As an undergraduate student I didn’t have any technical skills so I just got to know the hospital system and helped out where I can. I helped check people in (which was very humbling!), helped clean rooms, helped gather and organize supplies, even changing some bed pans! After doing this for a several months I spent the last few weeks shadowing one of the only specialists in the hospital at the time (2004), a pediatrician. That’s when I decided I was going to be a physician. The world needed physicians and I could also change the world   maybe not as a Nobel laureate or trailblazing astronaut, but in a smaller way, as a compassionate, committed, and quality physician for the global underserved.

So, I went to medical school at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. There I worked with a trailblazer in global public health, Dr. Mario Grijalva PhD. She is a research scientist from Ecuador who has transformed the landscape of interventions for Chagas’ Disease in his home country. I travelled to Ecuador a few times with the Tropical Disease Institute that he and other scientists at Ohio University started. I learned a lot in preparation and when in Ecuador from Dr. Grijalva and is amazing team. What has stayed with me since then, though, and what I apply today in. my work in Botswana is that partnerships are vital, instead of seeing our colleagues in the countries we work in as conduits we partner with them. We help them with the resources we have, we lean on them as leaders, we collaborate as equals. Dr. Grijalva supports the education of countless Ecuadorian students at all levels and has brought his team to the US to further their education. As a team of US and Ecuadorian professionals this group has been able to do amazing work in many areas of public health in Ecuador.

As a pediatric resident I learned about how important global health concepts can be even in certain communities in the United States. I chose a residency that was in Camden New Jersey at a hospital system that serves as a safety net for a community with high rates of poverty, insurance that limits access to pediatric subspecialists, and social scenarios like high levels of community violence or food deserts that can make it hard for children to live full healthy lives. It was during my residency that I discovered the Issa Trust Foundations rotation program. What I loved about the program was that it was being well supported by the foundation. Many pediatricians came before me and many came after me and it felt like we were providing a service that really filled a need. Instead of being a once off visit all together we were ‘the pediatrician’ in these underserved parts of Northern Jamaica. I worked with Issa Trust Foundation several more times after that providing support when in the US and going on a few of the trips to do community screening and referrals. I still remember a song a few of the young men sang for us when we were preparing for a community pop-up clinic in St. Ann’s Bay. It was called Paper Cut, and it was about how their lost love had left the sting of a ‘paper cut’ on their hearts. I loved my time there. I felt like we were making a real difference. Connecting to services for the young man with cerebral palsy, providing treatments for infections and rashes, connecting people with chronic diseases like epilepsy with specialist, and also just being an listening ear providing support and reassurance to weary parents. I remember one mother that I saw a few times in Port Maria was so happy about getting her sons asthma under control that she brought me a bag of ‘ripe banana’ as thanks. Other families would bring me flowers, homemade jewelry, and homemade cards. I know that I was a part of a larger system that does a real service for kids on Jamaica, but I also know that taking care of those patients almost always made my heart sing. On one of those trips to Jamaica I remember sitting in the lobby of Couples Towers Isle and having my first of many deep conversations with Diane Pollard. What I remember most from that conversation is that she clearly worked hard to do the best she can so serve from a place of love. She and her small but mighty team worked tirelessly to continue to elevate the foundation so that it provided needed services, supplies, and expertise to fill the needs and requests of the expert pediatricians serving children every day in Jamaica. Of all that I learned between Camden and Jamaica in serving the underserved, I will always center my work, like Diane does, in love.

After completing training in pediatrics and then adolescent medicine I decided to pursue my calling in global health full time via a David N. Pincus Foundation Global Health Fellow with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. At that time four year ago I was able to be fully immersed in the health system in Botswana and really focus on how I can contribute, collaborate, and learn from and with my colleagues in Botswana. While here I have helped to enhance an adolescent health clinic, work with the ministry of health and wellness on guidelines, set up a research project that increases access to mental health services for adolescents and young adults and teach students of all levels about pediatrics and mostly about adolescent health. Most adolescents live in lower income resource limited settings, so I feel a particular affinity to teaching and building systems that work in all kinds of settings for adolescents. It can be difficult but building something that has a chance to serve youth for years to come, is so meaningful.

Now 10 years since graduating from medical school and A LOT of growth and development later I’ve accepted a position to be the Lead Pediatrician and Research Director of the Botswana UPENN partnership. Me and my husband and daughter will be based in Botswana for the next several years. Botswana is not just a good place for me to grow but it’s a place where I can authentically contribute and collaborate. My dear friend here in Botswana told me a few days ago, “Botswana had been good to you. You came here single as a fellow no kids and now! You must continue to be grateful for the blessings”. There are so many blessings. There are the blessings of amazing local mentors, colleagues and friends from Botswana. There are the blessings of a beautiful family that is with me and the privilege of having the most wonderful family and friends mentors and colleagues in the US (and Europe and Asia) who put in the work with us to stay connected. Even as I deal with grief and waves of disappointment because of covid I still can’t help but think wow, what a beautiful life I am privileged to live.
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2013 was the first year our Lions of Michigan Vision Mission Team partnered with the Issa Trust Foundation to bring much needed vision care to the school children of Jamaica. Lions Clubs International is the largest service organization in the world with 1.4 million members in 209 countries, with a worldwide mission of “We Serve”.

Our Lions Vision Mission team was started in 1992 by Dr. Dennis Cobler, initially making a yearly mission to Central America. Eyeglasses are collected by Lion’s members throughout the State of Michigan and brought to our recycling center. Here, every pair of glasses is inspected for damage or scratches and the “keepers” are washed, dried and then measured for their prescription. The unusable glasses are sent to a recycling center where the plastic and metal are completely recycled. Nothing is wasted. The clean/measured glasses are placed in a plastic bag with the prescription inscribed on a label. These prescriptions are then entered in our computer database and then each bag is given a number before it is packed in a box in numerical order. These glasses are then shipped to the mission site.

On the mission site, the patients have their eyes screened by an auto-refractor that measures their prescription and eye alignment objectively. The patient then sees the eye doctor, using this electronic screening as a starting point and then further examining the patient’s eyes for more precise prescription needs and complete eye health.

If glasses are needed, the prescription is entered into the computer program and the closest used glasses we have to that prescription are given to the patient. The glasses are adjusted on each patient’s head along with education on when to wear them and how to care for the glasses. If we do not have glasses close to the proper prescription, we have the patient select a new frame and we have the glasses made in the US. The finished, brand new glasses are then sent back to the patient through the Issa Trust Foundation.

During non-COVID times, we collect 500,000 of used glasses a year. Lions’ volunteers collect the glasses and perform all the recycling duties in a weekly session at the recycling center.

Our mission team to Jamaica usually consist of 4-6 Lions Optometrists and up to 10 more Lions volunteers that do the preliminary testing, computer operations and dispensing the glasses to the patients.

In Jamaica, we examine school age children from 1st grade through high school. We try to examine 200-300 students a day for 4 days. In the 9 missions we have made with the Issa Trust foundation, we have examined almost 7,200 patients and provided 1,750 pairs of glasses.

Issa Trust Foundation, headed by Diane Pollard, is the invaluable teammate that makes this all possible. Diane coordinates all the mission sites where we work, whether it is right in the school or at a local church. Diane obtains permission from all the student’s parents for us to examine them and coordinates with the teachers and administrators to schedule the students into our makeshift clinic. Diane also facilitates all the paperwork required by the Jamaican government for us to operate with our professional licenses in the country and the volunteer permits required. The Issa Trust Foundation transports our used glasses into Jamaica and secures them and our equipment before our arrival. Finally, our safe travel to and from the airport, the mission sites and our accommodations in country all are provided by the Issa Trust Foundation.
From the very nearsighted student that could only see three inches from his face clearly, to the very farsighted student that could not count their fingers in front of their face, we provide much needed eyecare for the students of Jamaica. We use vision for 80% of what we learn. The future is positively different for Jamaican students because of the partnership between the Issa Trust Foundation and the Lions of Michigan Vision Mission Team.

If you would like to help the vision mission initiative, used eyeglasses can be sent in boxes of any size to:

Lions of Michigan Eyeglass Recycling
4060 29th Str. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512

In Service and Friendship,
Lion Dr. Gary Anderson
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We are all affected by the growing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s an unprecedented health challenge and we know people and organizations everywhere want to help. The Issa Trust Foundation, the non-profit organization of Couples Resorts Jamaica, has reacted with urgency to the medical needs of the Jamaican government due to the Covid-19 Pandemic by sourcing US$238,000 (JA$32M) in equipment and supplies for the country.

This donation includes two GE Ventilators (valued at JA$3M), a new portable X-Ray machine (valued at JA$2M) and a 40 ft container of supplies and equipment (valued at JA$27M). The container donations will include a Draegar XL Ventilator, beds, stretchers, an Ultra Sound Machine, infusion pumps, hand sanitizer, gowns, gloves, a CPAP Machine, an ECG Machine, along with many other essential items to assist with the current crisis.

“Couples Resorts and Issa Trust Foundation are committed to working with the Ministry of Health to strengthen capacity for Jamaica’s public healthcare system,” said Paul Issa, Chairman of the Issa Trust Foundation. “We thank all our partners, particularly Partners for World Health, for rising up to support our heroes on the front lines as we care for everyone in Jamaica that rely on critical equipment and supplies during this unprecedented time,” added Diane Pollard, President & CEO of the Issa Trust Foundation.

The greatest need right now is to help ensure Jamaica is prepared. They will require continued support of critical equipment, and supplies. We also want to ensure patients get the care they need and frontline workers get essential supplies.

See below to make a donation, or visit our donation page for information on other ways to give, tax-deductibility and corporate and foundation giving options.

DONATE NOW

How many times would you like this to recur? (including this payment)

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Issa Trust Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, and donations are therefore tax deductible in the United States.

Have questions, or need help? Email: Diane.Pollard@issatrustfoundation.com

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The Issa Trust Foundation announces their 5th Vision mission to be held at the Oracabessa Church of God, St. Mary, on October 7th, 8th and 9th from 9:00a to 4:00p at no cost for children ages 6 months to 22 years old ONLY!

The Issa Trust Foundation and the Lions Club of Michigan will provide free eye exams and prescription eyeglasses at their upcoming Vision Mission October 7, 8 and 9, 2019 at the Orcabessa Church of God in St. Mary.

For 5 years, The Issa Trust Foundation and the Lions Club of Michigan have worked together to bring teams of optometrists, licensed doctors, opticians and volunteer technicians to provide comprehensive eye exams and 4,700 pairs of gently used eyeglasses to children in our community. Each pair of glasses is carefully checked, cleaned, and prepared for children in need.

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Taken from the Jamaica Observer

A total of 887 children received eye examinations over three days of free Vision Clinics in Westmoreland last month.

Of that number, 172 received glasses, a recent release from the Issa Trust Foundation said.

The foundation, the non-profit arm of Couples Resorts, in conjunction with the Lions of Michigan Vision Mission Team, held the clinics for students at Savanna-La-Mar Primary School from October 17-19, and provided comprehensive eye exams to test the health of each child’s eyes and whether they needed glasses to improve their vision.

The release said the glasses were provided by the Lions Club team free of cost.

The mission team consisted of four optometrists, two medical doctors, a licensed optician, and five volunteer technicians who assisted in vision testing and in fitting the glasses.

According to the foundation, all the glasses provided were previously used glasses that had been collected, sorted, cleaned, measured and shipped from the United States to Jamaica. The Lions Club team used a computer programme to search for the best glasses that they have in their supply, closest to the child’s prescription needs.

In addition to the students examined, the Issa Trust Foundation said a Vision Clinic was also held at Couples Swept Away for the adult staff of that hotel and Couples Negril, where 329 employees were seen and 220 received glasses.

Lions Clubs International is the largest service organisation in the world with 1.4 million male and female members from 210 countries, the release said.

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St Ann's Bay Hospital Pediatric Ward Grand Opening – The Making of For The Children Jamaica from Issa Trust Foundation on Vimeo.

June 2017, Ambassadors, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, Air Supply, performed a benefit concert at Couples Sans Souci Resort from which $160,000 was raised. This money was integrated in a whopping $267,000 improvement project for the ward, which was officially opened on March 22, 2018, by Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton.

Extensive work was done on the ward and included the provision of new beds, cots, vital-sign monitors, piped medical gases, furniture for staff, patients and visitors, replacement of all windows, new curtain tracks and curtains, a central air-conditioning system, split air-conditioning units, fans, television sets, ventilators, and other critical infrastructural improvements, including the critical care nursery.

“I believe that how we care for each other reflects who we are as a nation; and how we care for children reflects the kind of future we’re going to have,” ITF Chairman Paul Issa shared. Wife of the Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Juliet Holness, says every Jamaican deserves good healthcare and should have access to first-rate health facilities.

Speaking at the opening of the renovated Pediatric Ward at the St. Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital in St. Ann on Marc Mrs. Holness said it is against that background that it is so commendable that the North East Regional Health Authority (NERHA) and the Issa Trust Foundation have joined together “to produce a world-class facility” for children.

“This phenomenal team has put together a world-class facility to ease the pain of children. You don’t find this kind of effort happening every day, which reinforces even more the need to appreciate this kind of love that has been meted out to our children and their parents,” she said.

Photos

Press Links

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A story by Jessica Dinh, Nurse, who shares her story while volunteering in Jamaica.

According to google the definition of life changing is…

"having an effect that is strong enough to change someone’s life: a life-changing decision/moment. Having a powerful effect."

It’s feels like such an understatement and a cliche to say these past 10 days have been life changing. But it is the literal truth. Anhtuan and I were blessed to join the Issa Trust Foundation for it’s 2017 Pediatric Medical Mission Trip in Jamaica. Thanks to Diane Pollard and Kerri Cook for making this possible.

I wish I could articulate the hundred of moments that i got to be apart of. The group of 42 people that were there we’re such amazing, compassionate individuals and I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else. As I decompress and fully look back at everything we did I know more things will come to me. For now I wanted to share one moment in particular.

 

Our 2nd clinic location we had a 18 year old girl come in. It was obvious that she was extremely ill and the amazing assessment skills of Laci Swanson and Elizabeth Mitchell Foden recognized this immediately and got her seen very quickly. She was in the end stages of a terminal illness. She only weighed about 75lbs and could barely eat or drink anything because it hurt too bad. To add to everything else she also had pneumonia. 

 

We were able to give her antibiotics and a fluid bolus to help with her extreme dehydration……. and then she was on her way home. I had an extremely hard time this day. I was blessed to get to help comfort her during her IV start and throughout her treatment. Those who know me as a nurse know that I do not shy away from these type of situations. I tend to gravitate towards difficult and hard patients and try to make their experience better in some way. This was no exception, but the feeling I had after was something I’ve never experienced in my professional career. It was a toxic combination of sadness, failure, hopelessness, sorrow and guilt.

 

I watched her leave knowing she would likely die within a few weeks if not sooner. That her death would be painful and horrible. That the severe lack of access to medical care ensured the world would be deprived of the amazing things this girl has to offer. I am not saying in america that we could have changed the end. Maybe so, or at least prolonged it. Enough to let her actually live a full life. Or to simply be comfortable.

 

After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself I came to a surprising realization. After her fluid bolus she did look "better". We were able to give her a sandwich and fresh fruit (although she wasn’t able to eat much). The antibiotics should begin working and hopefully decrease the amount of pain she is in. I do know she left better than when she came in. And although medically we could not save her. I do pray that she left feeling that people cared about her. That she was important and loved. That she mattered. I sent my small fan I brought with me that hangs around my neck with her. It was a cheap $4 Wal-Mart purchase. But I hope that if all I could give her was a little more comfortable death and the feeling of love, compassion, kindness and respect…..I’m not sure we can ask for much more than that…

 

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

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The Issa Trust Foundation is pleased to announce the 13th Pediatric Medical Mission to be held in Westmoreland and Hanover. Over the last 13 years, hundreds of volunteers have been involved in the program impacting the lives of thousands of children. We deliver sustainable, quality and impactful results with integrity, compassion and dignity for all.

This year we have a team of 40 volunteers including pediatric pharmacists, intensive care physicians, hematology oncology physician, general pediatricians, neonatologists, and pediatric nurses. Children will receive, at no cost, complete pediatric exams, labs if needed, pharmaceutical medications, fluoride treatments and eye exams, with glasses if needed for children ages birth to 18 years old.

In addition, a team of biomedical engineers will also be partnering with the local maintenance team at Sav La Mar Hospital. The team will work side by side with the staff providing hands on training, repairing equipment and conducting maintenance on incubators, warmers, ventilators and other selected equipment. The biomedical engineers will also bring parts to help repair as much of the equipment as possible.

The Issa Trust Foundation was established in 2005 by Couples Resorts as a nonprofit organization. The mission of the Foundation is to provide a system of prevention, health promotion and education, community health improvement and other services to promote well-being and development for the people of Jamaica.

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We are thankful for the generous donation of medical supplies valued at US $1,000.00 courtesy of the Panetta family and The Valley Hospital. The donation will help serve approximately 1,000 children during our September 2017 medical mission.

Pictured left to right, Linda Ohnikian, RN
Debbie Panetta, Director of Radiation Oncology
Julie Karcher, Vice President
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Wow, just like that 4 weeks have flown by!  Our experience here has been one that words will not adequately describe. On arrival, we were extremely overwhelmed with the health system, the lack of resources and the handwritten (rarely comprehensible) notes. Slowly but surely, we learned our way around and fell in love with the patients and the support staff. The nurses, doctors and residents were all extremely helpful at explaining how to navigate the system and helping us with day to day tasks.

During our time, we saw the cutest babies on the planet and were exposed to many diagnoses that we simply don’t encounter as frequently in the US such as rheumatic heart disease and myiasis. We also practiced independently and gained a new sense of autonomy. As we leave, we will take with us renewed strength (thanks Ms. Caryn for the massage), increased knowledge and the overwhelming amount of love that has been showered on us since day 1.

  Memorable moments:
  • Telling a mom that her baby’s name (Chloe) was beautiful and asking her where she got it from. Her responding pleasantly, “Thanks! At first I thought it was a white persons name but now I love it!”
  • Having 1 chair in my exam room and telling a young boy to sit down, then his mom walking in and him getting up to allow her to sit, stating, “Have a seat my love!”
  • Hearing patients describe ‘mold germs’ and ‘balloon germs’.
  • Riding in the ambulance to and from work.
  • Walking around the resort and at any given moment, someone walking by and recognizing you and yelling, “HEY DOC!!!!!”
  • Indulging in a beef patty every day after returning from work.
  • Taking our first Noni juice shots (my eyes are still cringing as I write this!)
  • Walking by the talking parrots (before knowing they were talking parrots of course) and hearing them say, “HELLO!” Then looking at each other for confirmation that we both heard the bird speak.
  • Super Bowl party on the beach (man Jamaicans really know how to party 🙂 )
  • Friday lobster nights at Eight Rivers!

Thank you to the people of Jamaica for instilling their trust in us and allowing us to care for their children, Issa Trust for the wonderful opportunity and the staff at Couples Resorts for taking us in and truly making this feel like home for us. One Love and we’ll meet again soon.

 

A little girl with Hand, Foot & Mouth showing off her fancy tongue

Our final dinner with Diane, Ernie and Carrie!

With all our love,

Shanna and Wanda

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