Saint Louis University

ST. LOUIS -- In 2000, a group of Saint Louis University otolaryngologists set out on a mission trip to Juticalpa, Honduras. Their plan was to spend one week providing much-needed ear, nose and throat care to the rural Hondurans.

John Eisenbeis, M.D.

What they did not anticipate was the personal connection they would feel to Honduras; that they would eagerly return each year to treat new patients and visit with the friends they made or how these trips would forever change them professionally and personally.

"When you get down there and see how great the need is for specialty care and how incredibly grateful and loving they are, you can't help yourself. Every year, you want to go back," said John Eisenbeis, M.D., professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Saint Louis University, who spearheaded the relationship between SLU and Honduras.

"I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity to care for people in the third world. We've all been given so much and these trips allow us to share our gifts -- our training and education -- to make a difference in the lives of our patients in Honduras."

Since that first mission trip, groups of SLU doctors, residents, nurses and medical school students, also called medical brigades, have returned to Honduras three times each year. They've treated thousands of patients, doing procedures that run the gamut from simple tonsillectomies to complex head and neck surgeries.

According to Eisenbeis, his colleagues in the department of otolaryngology at Saint Louis University were quick to embrace the project and make it their own. In addition to staffing the medical brigades, faculty members helped fundraise to build a new hospital in the town of Catacamas, Honduras.

"I go because it is an annual reminder of why I went into medicine. I went into medicine to take care of patients," said Alan Wild, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology at SLU. Wild has participated in seven mission trips over the last nine years and plans to return this fall.

"I have been blessed with so much and this trip allows me to give something back. I am proud to say my efforts contribute to the health of these rural Hondurans."

From the very beginning, the department also has included residents on the mission trips. It's an important part of the resident's training and fits perfectly with the mission of Saint Louis University, Eisenbeis explains.

"This is an experience that stays with doctors long after they finish their training at SLU. I've had former residents tell me that these trips opened their eyes to the opportunity to serve those in need around the world, and they continue to participate in medical mission trips and look for other ways to give back," Eisenbeis said.

Members of SLU's department of otolaryngology founded the non-profit International Medical Assistance Foundation (IMAF) in 2005 to support these medical mission trips. To learn more or get involved, go to http://www.imedaf.org/.