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Honoring Those Who Travel Far to Help the Sick

“What are you going to do with your hands to change the world?” asked Dr. Orlando Silva.

Silva should know. The University of Miami oncologist had just received an award for “Best Medical Mission Doctor’’ and his organization, Emmaus Medical Mission, was named “Best Medical Mission Organization.’’

By Caitlin Granfield Special to The Miami Herald
Jamie Canizares, a pediatric emergency room nurse at Baptist Hospital, tends to a patient in the Sudan. She won the Meddy Awards for "Best Medical Mission Nurse."

The awards were part of the inaugural Meddy Awards, which took a page from the Emmys and honored medical professionals for their hands-on work around the globe, helping the sick and impoverished.

Through Emmaus Medical Mission, Silva, a breast cancer specialist at UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, gathers volunteer teams of medical professionals, dentists and others to help the impoverished in remote areas in Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, Ecuador and the Sudan.

On average, 40 to 50 doctors and nurses and 50 volunteers treat up to 5,000 patients per visit during their five-day trip. They provide free medical care, vitamins and medicine to those who don’t have access or funds to get basic healthcare services.

Silva practices internal medicine, treating those who have diabetes, urinary tract infections, asthma, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses. They take about $2 million in medicine per trip, funded by donations from doctors, sponsors and nonprofits.

Teams provide patients with a six-month supply and return every six months with refills and more medicine.

“What good would a one week supply of meds for someone with diabetes do? They need medicine for the long-term,” Silva said.

The awards were a collaborative effort between Alex Miranda, founder and executive director of Jose’s Hands, and Jonathan Babicka, the brains behind Funkshion, the charity fashion show for Make-A-Wish Foundation. The event raised about $9,000 to benefit Jose’s Hands, a non-profit that helps fund medical mission trips for first-year medical school students.

For Miranda, Jose’s Hands is a personal quest. He founded the organization to honor his older brother, Jose, who was an orthopedic surgeon and a major in the U.S. Army before he died y in 2008. Jose had shared his dream with his brother of participating in medical mission trips around the world shortly before he died.

“This is what my brother wanted to do — I want to help students go on medical mission trips and plant the seed so they can get started in their medical mission careers,’’ said Miranda. “I know their lives will be impacted. Those students are Jose’s hands through the work that they’re doing.’’

Jamie Canizares, who works in the pediatric emergency room at Baptist Hospital, received the Meddy for “Best Medical Mission Nurse.” She will be going on her sixth medical mission trip in November to a clinic and orphanage in Sumpango, Guatemala, with Emmaus Medical Mission.

“You get so much more out of giving when people don’t expect it,’’ she said. “Since we work in very remote areas, people travel by foot, which can take them a day to reach us. They remember my name. They’re just really appreciative.”

It’s that type of commitment Babicka hopes to encourage through the awards show.

“We hope to engage the next generation of philanthropists and to inspire onlookers to support them in their missions,” said Babicka who, with his wife Missy, brought a bit of glamour to the event, held last month at South Beach’s Hyde Beach at the SLS Hotel and which included a post-awards fashion show. Babicka is founder of PhilanTropic Lifestyle.

Other winners included Doctors in Christ for “Best Up and Coming Medical Mission Organization” founded by Jorge Gomez. “Best Medical Mission Student” went to Stephanie Giraldo from Florida International University and “Best Medical Mission Student Organization” was awarded to Medical Students in Action.

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