We’ve kept quite a pace down here. If you’ve followed our posts on Facebook, you will have seen that the first week team performed 40 procedures last week – quite impressive considering the small team size and only having one anesthetist capable of doing general anesthesia. Dr. Obregon and Dr. Kaufman were great to have along – such servants, willing to see most the consults while I got to operate and take the lead on most the major cases. It was a true honor to have Pete (Dr. Obregon) back on one of my projects. Before I get into the details about our second week, I’d like tell you a bit more about Pete and all he has meant to me as a person and as a surgeon.
I went to church with Dr. Obregon since I was a boy. I knew he was a doctor and that he did some missionary work, specifically in his home town in the Philippines. As he got older and his children had grown, Pete started going on more and more mission projects in more and more different countries. I would occasionally watch his slide presentations at church – they were both inspiring and kind of gross. I never seriously entertained following in his footsteps. When I was a sophomore in college, Pete invited me and my family to go help one one of his projects in northern Thailand. We combined it with a family trip to visit my mom’s long-time pen pal in Myanmar (Burma). The project was mostly primary care medicine in remote mountain villages, but Pete trained me to take vital signs, triage patients, and let me watch some minor surgical procedures. Seeing God work through him in such an intimate way on so many diverse people was truly eye opening. For the first time I considered that a career in medicine, specifically surgery, might be worth all the years of training and mounds of debt that it would require. Pictures of the patients from that project would serve as my motivation on many late nights of study through college and medical school. So I can credit Pete with helping to determine my career.
Over the next decade, I would travel with Pete to the Dominican Republic, Outer Mongolia, and Rwanda. He also encouraged me on other missions to Haiti and the Philippines, even though he was preparing for other projects elsewhere. It was on that trip to the Dominican where Wendy first considered that I might be worth dating, quirks, flaws, and pale complexion notwithstanding. So I can credit Pete with helping me find my wife as well.
In 2010, out of surgical residencey and a couple years into my career, things lined up for me to go on a little one-week project in Bolivia. Pete was directing and I wanted to serve with him again. He was 78 years old at this point, still going quite strong. We had a great week in Santa Rosa with a great Bolivian team. It was there that Pete suggested I start directing projects rather than just participating. The next year, an illness would prevent him from directing that project and my hand was forced to step up. Taking teams to Bolivia is now a huge part of my identity. For this, I can also thank Pete. Four years and six projects later, he came back to serve on my team, content to serve under my leadership and do whatever was asked to help the project be a success.
Lest you think this is slowing the man down, I should mention that Pete is still directing projects on two or three continents a year. He is actively recruiting a team to operate on a houseboat on the Amazon next spring. What else is one supposed to do for spring break at the age of 83? He is the happiest man I have ever met. Though he takes a few more naps than he used to, he is still tireless in his service to the world’s poorest. He has done thousands of operations in over 80 countries over the past 30 years. He has sold most his earthly goods to do so. He has found the pearl of great price (spoken of in Matthew 13:45-46) and has selflessly shared it with me and many others. I don’t think I could ever thank him enough. But maybe the most fitting thanks I can give is to cultivate that pearl and share it with others. Thanks, Pete.