A CHARITY IS BORN Before becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2006, the Schusters were already doing the best they could to run a makeshift clinic in Bicol, as well as visit underserved regions around the world. Each region presents unique challenges, but the Schusters and their team of volunteers focus on sending patients who need specialized care to their local doctors. “Each host country has facilities
with equipment in their capital cities. Much of our (focus) is to refer patients to these local medical centers. Bicol sponsors as much of this as possible,” says Dr. Schuster, adding that he and Tess have spent almost all of their savings on this mission. So the couple was more than willing to go along with a group of Dr. Schuster’s South Florida patients who, after seeing the Schusters’ commitment to this cause, decided in 2006 to organize Bicol Clinic into a foundation. This allowed them to hold large-scale fundraisers to support long-term goals, such as turning the Philippines clinic into a 70
fully functioning hospital, developing programs to treat tuberculosis, opening clinics in other Third World countries and expanding their rapid response disaster relief team. And, as the Schusters like to say, they’re doing it one village—and sometimes one patient—at a time. Generally, the Bicol Clinic Foundation takes a one-month trip every summer, along with a team of volunRIGHT: Dr. Mitchell and Tess Schuster BELOW: Bicol Clinic Foundation volunteers in Nepal with Dr. Schuster and his daughter, Jessica
teers. Many of these volunteers are medical students from Florida Atlantic University, University of Miami, Tulane University in New Orleans and other colleges. A typical day starts at 8 a.m. and ends around dinner time. Or as Tess puts it, “We get up, eat breakfast and start running.” They provide vaccinations, treat infections and distribute medications for pain or high blood pressure. They dole out antibiotics. They see patients whose untreated stomachaches have grown into full-blown dysentery. They treat patients with tumors. They see way too much tuberculosis.
T H E B O C A R AT O N O B S E R V E R
“You don’t do it for attention or accolades. You do it because it is the right thing to do.” — Dr. Mitchell Schuster
And they do it all without the benefit of what we take for granted in our typical medical settings— there are no EKG machines, X-ray machines or other imaging equipment for things like CT scans. It’s a powerful experience and one that most volunteers never forget. “Every medical student who comes with us winds up saying,
‘This has been the best experience of my life,’” says Dr. Schuster. “I can’t imagine not having gone on this trip, as it has changed the way that I think about what a doctor is to people,” blogged one former medical student volunteer. “I realize that we can imagine what it is like to help another person who is sick and in desperate need, but imagination pales in comparison to experience.” And while the Schusters have met and treated thousands of patients through their global relief efforts, a few cases have truly stood out. Haiti resident Davidson St. Jean is one of those special cases.