The story of how a group of University of Texas Medical Branch physicians, residents and alumni recently went on a surgical medical mission to help some of the Dominican Republic’s poorest residents had its beginnings several years ago.
How the UTMB entourage ended up in one of the poorest parts of the Western Hemisphere begins with Dr. Dennis Gore, a surgeon at UTMB, and Dr. Bert Hart, a UTMB alum, who co-founded the Hispaniola Medical Charity
as a way to honor Hart’s father who was a well-respected surgeon in Puerto Plata.
“Bert and I had done medical missions to Guatemala for years,” Gore said. “I would see Bert and his father at medical meetings, and Bert’s father would invariably ask, ‘Why don’t you go to Puerto Plata?’”
So Gore and Hart began the process of starting their non-profit group so they could help the people of Hispaniola, home of Hart’s family.
In the middle of filling out the paperwork, Hart’s father, a retired Navy surgeon, died. “So we are now doing this in honor of my father,” said Hart, an anesthesiologist who practices in Bryan.
Despite the many years of mission work in Guatemala, Hart and Gore said that they were overwhelmed by the welcoming arms of the people of Puerto Plata, the medical professionals, the community and the area government.
Gore, a UTMB alum as well who also did his residency at UTMB, said one reason that he volunteers is to help people who truly need help. “People cry out of happiness and gratitude. We don’t make money. You have to pay your way. It’s my own time but what you get is this tremendous sense of personal satisfaction — of helping someone.”
Moving forward the group would like to incorporate more education into the missions.
“As we take technology there, we want to make sure that equipment is properly used and maintained. We also want to teach the latest techniques, so we want to expand our education mission,” Hart said.
That is one of the reasons that Dr. Matt Dacso, director of UTMB’s Center for Global Health Education
, traveled with the group last month. He came away very impressed with the charity but even more so with the UTMB volunteers.
“It was amazing to me how these alumni have stayed close and have decided to donate their time, money and effort toward serving the poor in the Dominican Republic,” Dacso said.
It is through the work of the charity group that UTMB's global health programs have begun long-term collaborations in the Dominican Republic, which allow students and faculty to work on education and research projects that benefit impoverished communities, Dacso said.
The group had fundraisers in Galveston and Bryan and raised about $30,000 for supplies that filled more than 40 medical trunks. The group also took some medical equipment that they donated to the hospital as well as any unused medical supplies.
One of the fundraisers in Galveston was hosted by Dennis Byrd, owner of the restaurant/bar Seawall complex that is anchored by The Spot. Byrd said that Gore, whom he has known for many years, told him about the budding charity a few years ago.
“I jokingly said that I would love to join them on a trip,” said Byrd, now a veteran of two missions to the Dominican Republic. “From a non-medical view, it’s fascinating to see a doctor’s work firsthand. This team of volunteers quite literally is changing lives, providing care to individuals who would not receive it otherwise. It’s rewarding and humbling to be allowed to go.”
Gore counters that Byrd and the other non-medical volunteers all work hard, arranging equipment, grabbing needed supplies and just helping all around.
The team of 27 treated and operated on patients for dental issues, gall bladder problems, sinus problems, vein conditions and many others over a course of four days. They performed more than 60 surgeries and did more than 56 vein procedures. The vascular surgeon, by the way, is Hart’s brother, Hugo, who practices in Florida.
“We try to do the most good while we are there, doing what we thought we could have the greatest benefit,” Gore said. So the team stuck to surgeries that could be done relatively quickly and safely.
Both Gore and Hart have plans for the future. They hope to add eye doctors and pediatricians to the team.
But before that happens, both doctors are busy planning for next year’s mission, hoping to raise more money, have more volunteers and to help more people — all under the watchful eye of Hart’s wife, Laura, who is a physical therapist, UTMB alum and the team’s administrator, secretary, treasurer and logistical expert.
“I think we want to be able to have more than one mission a year,” Gore said. There is so much need. There is no reason why this organization can’t continue to grow.”