In countries with modern medicine, when women turn 40, they start getting screening mammograms. In other parts of the world, where healthcare is still considered rudimentary, women of the same age don’t always know about these screening procedures — let alone have access to them.
Braila, a small city in northeastern Romania, is one such place where the healthcare needs are great and progress is slow going. In this city of 250,000, there are only two mammogram screening machines. Furthermore, the medical expertise necessary to provide the full spectrum of care for women’s health, such as breast cancer screening and treatment, remains a work in progress.
Tom Johnson, MD, breast radiologist on the medical staff at Methodist Richardson Medical Center, has made it a part of his life’s work to help educate the Romanian medical community and treat the women of Braila. This personal mission takes him and his wife Nancy there each year with an organization called ServingHIM.
On a mission to help those in need
Dedicated to serving others worldwide by ministering to both physical and spiritual needs, ServingHIM (Healthcare International Ministries) sends teams to impoverished areas of the world, such as Romania, Moldova, and Guatemala. Next year, it will celebrate 20 years of mission trips.
“I was introduced to the organization by my wife, a pediatric nurse practitioner, after she learned that a few of the organization’s leaders were in her Sunday school group,” Dr. Johnson explains.
“She and I have both gone for the last three years. My role is to perform breast ultrasound scans on high-risk patients, and this year we are hoping to teach radiology students from Bucharest [Romania’s capital] about modern medical techniques, such as doing ultrasound-guided breast biopsies right there in the office instead of sending them off to the hospital.”
A medical clinic that has brought real change
When Dr. Johnson travels to Braila to perform much-needed breast health screening procedures, he does so at the Diaconia Clinic. ServingHIM started this medical facility 20 years ago with one doctor and one nurse. Today, the clinic has grown to 27 full-time physicians and dentists who provide high-quality medical care seven days a week.
Teams of doctors, like the one Dr. Johnson is with, travel to the clinic three times a year to perform more specialized treatments and train local health providers in the most up-to-date techniques. The clinic has built such a strong reputation in the region that the local county hospital and medical society have developed strong relational ties to the clinic in an effort to grow their medical knowledge and treatment options.
Without the clinic, it’s hard to imagine how healthcare providers like Dr. Johnson would be able to provide their services to patients in need and continually educate the local medical community. Next year, it will open two operating rooms for specialized surgeries and training.
“Many of the patients we see travel to the clinic from the surrounding rural areas and will schedule their next appointments a year in advance, when they know certain specialists will be back,” Dr. Johnson says. “One of the reasons I keep going back to Romania is the sense of connection you develop with the patients you see each trip and bonding with the clinic staff as you work side-by-side.”
Babe’s Chicken in Romania?
Yes, you read that right. Dallas’ very own, Babe’s Chicken will soon have its first international location on the top floor of the Diaconia Clinic. Dr. Johnson chuckles as he explains the connection: “Joe Vinyard (brother to Babe’s Chicken founder Paul) is a member of the ServingHIM team. He has gone with us the last two years to find a way to bring the home-cooked delights loved in Dallas to the people who receive care and work at the clinic. The team hopes to have it open by next summer.”
Healing the hurt
When people ask Dr. Johnson about his time in Braila and wonder why he makes such a sacrifice each year to go and serve others, his answer is simple: “We know we can’t help a person change their heart if they’re in pain or anxious about their health. We take this mission each year, contributing our time and medical expertise, because we believe that helping heal the body goes hand-in-hand with Christ healing their body and souls. When we travel back and see past patients whose lives have been transformed because of their faith, it’s truly the most satisfying part of our work there.”Our Mission2Medicine blog series shares the inspiring stories of how clinicians on our medical staff are participating in mission trips — whether religiously affiliated or not — and serving in extraordinary ways.