Thoughts of summer lead our minds to those wonderful, carefree months when children are out of school and schedules are a bit more flexible. Most families plan a summer vacation that involves leisure activities and fun. This year, Richard Thacker, DO of Capital Regional Medical Group and his family had the privilege and opportunity to participate in a mission trip to a remote, mountainous region of Honduras. Their week long journey would renew their spirits like nothing they've ever experienced before.
"I've wanted to participate in a mission trip for many years, but just couldn't seem to find the time," said Dr. Thacker. In addition to his busy internal medicine practice with Capital Regional Medical Group, Dr. Thacker serves as the Core Site Clinical Director for the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, is a member of the Board of Trustees for the American Osteopathic Association and actively participates in many leadership roles at Capital Regional Medical Center. "I am very involved professionally both on a local and national level, but really wanted to do a mission trip to learn medicine from an international perspective." With the support of his colleagues at Capital Regional Medical Center and HCA, Dr. Thacker was able to realize this goal and at the same time, give his family a life-changing experience helping others.
The trip was led by Rev. Dan Sowell as part of East Hill Baptist Church's mission outreach through Mercy International. Rev. Dan Sowell has also been a dedicated volunteer at Capital Regional for many years and was recently the Frist Humanitarian Volunteer Award recipient. Mercy International is based out of Yamaranguilla in the Opalaca Mountains of southwest Honduras. Their mission is to help the Lenca Indians that are indigenous to this area by providing assistance with medical needs, construction projects and long term education outreach. These activities give hope and dignity to these extremely poor people and also promote independence.
The mission team, which consisted of 22 members, including Dr. Thacker and five nurses, flew into San Pedro Sula and then traveled by van four hours to the Mercy International farm. Each day, the mission team would depart from the farm and travel to different remote villages where they would set up a medical clinic, generally in a local school building. "The people would be lined up and waiting when we arrived. They were very respectful and appreciative of everything we could do for them," said Dr. Thacker. By the end of four clinic days, the mission team had helped over 720 patients with medical issues such as fungal and parasitic infections, chronic pain and respiratory conditions. "We saw a fair amount of asthma problems because they use wood burning cooking stoves inside their houses." According to Dr. Thacker, many of the people in this area of Honduras have no running water or electricity and are quite isolated; it could take them hours to get to a pharmacy or doctor.
For the busy physician, this trip was as beneficial to him as to those he was serving. "It was a great experience, and rejuvenated my spirit. It got me back in touch with taking care of pediatric patients, which I hadn't done since my internship. It allowed me to use my very rusty college Spanish. Selfishly, I wanted my kids to have this experience and appreciate what they have in America. I wanted them to be inspired while making a difference for people in an underprivileged part of the world. After 20 years in practice, I needed this personally and professionally. I felt as though I accomplished something even though there is a great deal more to do. It was very rewarding and a great trip all around."
Now that he's returned to Tallahassee, Dr. Thacker hopes that others will be inspired to go on a mission. "I want to share my experience and motivate others to participate in missions. You don't have to travel to a third world country to be a missionary. There are many opportunities to serve on a local level. At Capital Regional we have a teaching program for osteopathic medical students and it's my hope to provide mission opportunities as part of their osteopathic medical training." He said finding time for a mission is simply a matter of deciding to do it. "You have time and money for what you want in life. You just have to figure out what you want to do with it. I hope people will be inspired to do something that helps others. There's no reason not to. You make the commitment, then you live up to it. We have to raise the bar for ourselves."