Dr. Shima with his young patients on a medical mission trip.

Medical mission helps families and fulfills promise

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Thomas Shima, DO, is on a mission. A mission to not only save lives but to also make life better.

A physician with the Methodist Charlton Medical Center Family Medicine Residency Program, Dr. Shima spends his working hours helping families across southwestern Dallas County. It’s a cause to which he’s committed. In his off-hours, he continues his commitment to helping others — but the geographical boundaries change.

For the last 13 years, Dr. Shima has traveled throughout Central America, South America, and Africa on medical mission trips, caring for families and children in small, remote villages with little access to medical care.

A promise to help others

The reason behind Dr. Shima’s commitment is a promise he made to his grandmother. A missionary for 25 years in Africa and India, she asked him to take a mission trip to help others in the world.

“Once I finished my residency and started practicing, I found the time for my first mission trip,” Dr. Shima says. “It was such an incredible experience that I’ve been going ever since.”

His first mission trip was with DOCARE International to Central America, where he worked with a team that set up in villages in Guatemala. He has returned annually with a team of doctors, nurses, and organizers, sometimes to the same villages, sometimes to new ones. He has seen families grow and children grow up, learned the different cultures, and gained an understanding of the impact his work has had on these families. He has since expanded the reach of his mission to include Peru and Malawi.

A crowd waits at a a medical center during Dr. Shima's medical mission trip. Patients wait at the clinic on one of Dr. Shima’s medical mission trips. 

A normal day at the clinic

On some days, the team may see 150 patients, on others 350. According to Dr. Shima, a busy week can be anywhere from 1,200 to 1,300 patients.

Most of the medical conditions are related to the environment in which people live. Women suffer from headaches, a result of carrying large items and packages on top of their heads. Both women and children have respiratory illnesses and coughs, usually caused by cooking over a wood-burning fire in an unventilated area of the house, a common practice in the Mayan culture. Men spend long hours working hard in the fields, so when they are able to visit the clinic, the most common complaint is back pain.

Some of the more difficult cases include malnutrition in children. Dr. Shima and his team coordinate with partner organizations in the country’s healthcare system to help families access financial and continued healthcare assistance when the missionaries leave.

The stories that make a difference

Every day is different, as is every patient, but it was one young patient who underscored the importance of the team’s work. On this occasion, a young girl visited the clinic. She was struggling academically in the classroom because she was not feeling well and missing school. Dr. Shima and his team recognized some of the issues and symptoms and discovered the root cause was diabetes.

“We worked to get her access to diabetes information and got her on medication to control her sugars,” he explains. “A year later, her mom brought her back and she was doing much better. Her sugar levels were good, and she was doing well in school. The family came back to the clinic to thank us for what we had done.”

A life-changing experience

Medical missions have a tremendous impact not only on the people and families in the communities served, but on those offering their services, as well.

“It’s a life-changing experience,” Dr. Shima says. “By and large, that’s the big driving force behind why so many people join us year after year. They see what a difference our work makes, and they see a totally different perspective of healthcare and an opportunity to do something for those who are in need.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Providers at Methodist live out our mission here in North Texas as well. To help bring vital services to Methodist, visit the Methodist Health System Foundation or the Methodist Richardson Medical Center Foundation.

Methodist Health System’s mission is to improve and save lives through compassionate, quality healthcare. Our Mission to Medicine series shares the inspirational stories of clinicians extending this mission beyond hospital walls to local, national, and international communities.

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