Local student travels with Mammoth Medical Missions to typhoon-devastated Tanauan
Carson Bold is an honored member of the Mammoth Medical Missions (MMM) team. MMM is a local, nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to care for those in need, or who can’t otherwise afford vital surgical, medical, and dental healthcare. MMM focuses on underserved mountain and rural communities across the globe. As Carson says, “In remote places, such as Chiapas, Mexico, or in this case, the Philippines.”
MMM is, in theory, much like Doctors Without Borders, but, in practice, is a much smaller operation with the capacity of fast, rapid deployment. Carson was one of 16 volunteers who recently embarked on a mission to remote Tanauan, a city in the Philippines devastated by recent Typhoon Haiyan. Their mission was to help numerous victims of the recent typhoon. In a group that included one orthopedic surgeon, two general surgeons, operating room technicians, three anesthesiologists, and a handful of nurses, Carson was the only volunteer who is not a professional. He’s a high school student by fulltime trade, absent from my class for a week, engulfed in on-the-ground assistance in remote Philippines. While those of us left in town were debating snowfall predictions, Carson and team was busy amputating limbs, dressing lacerations, pumping clean water, delivering babies, and helping children who were immediately orphaned due to a world-record breaking storm. Many of us caught the five-minute clip on NBC Nightly News, watching Dr. Mike Karch do his thing: God’s work.
Bold’s first trip with MMM was in November 2011. He spent a week in Chiapas, Mexico. He came back with hundreds of photographs, and even more stories. It is amazing to see what this team can do when they mobilize to provide medical care, largely surgery, to lesser fortunate people found in lesser fortunate parts of the globe. I asked Carson about his first experience two years ago, about how it changed his perspective on life. “Helping people was what turned me on to medicine. The feeling I got was indescribable.” This surgeon-in-the-making was set to return to Mexico again this month. That’s when immeasurable disaster hit the Philippines. With a day remaining before departure to Mexico, Team Rubicon, a group of ex-military veterans who specialize in search and rescue, called MMM. They knew MMM was ready to go to Mexico. Team Rubicon informed the surgeons and staff about the City of Tanauan, located far off the map in the Philippines, and they asked them to relocate. Team Rubicon established an immediate connection with agencies inside the Philippines to assist MMM. An aspect of MMM’s work is mass casualty training and disaster preparedness. This is what the MMM trains for and teaches. They were ready for the challenge to serve those in dire need.
A 14-hour commercial flight, C-130 military flight, and UH-60 Black Hawk military flight landed the group in Tanauan. Its Tagalog-speaking population was in shell shock. “It was destroyed. Most of the buildings were rubble. Lots of people displaced from homes. We met orphans whose family members were just killed. Palm trees stripped of their fronds. People were asking for food and water,” Carson said of his firsthand look at victims of the storm.
Tanauan City Hall became the group’s headquarters. A building with no remaining roof was the central nervous system of this medical team. The team had to go upstairs due to the flooding on the first floor. The doctors used standard work desks as operating tables. Most surgeries were due to lacerations. The group had its fair share of amputations. They also delivered 11 babies, two via C-section. Six days of medical work under the most barren of circumstances.
“We ran out of anesthesia after the C-sections, and for the remainder of the trip, patients were given a towel to bite down on during procedures,” Carson said. Carson worked with the volunteer staff for the week, all under the protection of Philippine military. What little sleep they got was on the deck of the City Hall. They spent a week of their lives in Tanauan, performing hundreds of surgeries. I asked Carson what this recent experience did for him, in regard to offering a different perspective of life on this planet. “It is life changing to see all the destruction, and see how people have pulled through. The perseverance of life. To see how they worked to improve life. The local mayor credited an increase in the city’s morale to the presence of us being there. I think it was just them.”
MMM C.O.O. David Page is key personnel of the organization, a board member and cofounder of the nonprofit. The logistical coordinator was a part of this group who recently returned from the Philippines. A big part of Page’s work was setting up shop under unthinkable conditions. He witnessed the work of Carson, and shared, “Carson was definitely an asset. It’s pretty extraordinaire for a sixteen-year old to jump into a situation like that, and keep his head, keep his cool. We were going 15 to 16 hours a day. Carson was pumping a lot of water for us to work with. He helped us however he could. There were a lot of kids and orphans. Kids who lost their families who were just hanging around. Carson really bonded with the kids. Having an American kid along just brought comfort to the local youth.”
A Japanese team arrived in Tanauan a day before MMM left for home, and took over where the MMM left off. Doctors Without Borders is currently in Tanauan finishing the work of MMM. Page and Karch both emphasize the importance of being present within the first 72 hours of a disaster. As Page says, “It’s important to get in there fast. Before bureaucracies and infections both set in to complicate things, those first three days are critical. By luck and bravado, we made it in when we did. If we didn’t go in, it’s likely no one would be there.”
As Carson and I went through a number of his photographs, he showed me everything from newborn infants, to body bags, to amputees, to smiling locals, to an empty fire truck that stood on Main Street in Tanauan. Its team of firefighters were killed when the live power lines fell into the water where the truck remained parked and vacant. Mind-blowing images. As photos that MMM volunteers took of this trip have gone viral, Page informed me that MMM has received an “unbelievable amount of donations, both in the community and across the country.” These donations allow for the continued preparedness and work of Mammoth Medical Missions. Carson will no doubt be on hand the next time MMM is called to service.