P. Lance Hendricks, MD, fell in love with Fiji decades ago. A surfer searching for big waves and a short reprieve during his final year of medical school, he borrowed some cash and took a vacation to the island nation.
The visit became just one of many. On surf trips to Tavarua Island, locals frequently sought him out for medical advice and treatment. Dr. Hendricks became a popular guest, and his interest in Fiji evolved beyond world-class reef breaks.
“I couldn’t ignore their health needs or the grinding poverty around me,” he said. “Every time I went back, I wanted to do more.”
Fiji made a lasting impression on Dr. Hendricks. Over the past 25 years, he’s made an equally indelible mark on many people who live there. While the married father raised eight adopted children and worked long and erratic hours as an anesthesiologist at Scripps Green Hospital, he made time to improve lives halfway around the globe.
Dr. Hendricks joined forces with other humanitarians to hatch the Loloma Foundation, a nonprofit designed to distribute medicine, clothing, school supplies, and other necessities to many agencies throughout the South Pacific, including Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Scripps Clinic infectious disease specialist Philip Higginbottom, MD, and Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla gastroenterologist David Roseman, MD, also took on the cause. In addition to offering free clinics in remote villages, the team developed an academic program with the Fiji School of Medicine.
In 2003, that effort evolved into the Scripps Health Fiji Alliance, a partnership developed to bring much-needed medical care, talent and resources to the region.
Through a formal agreement, volunteer specialists from Scripps Health now provide academic training in the Fiji School of Medicine’s postgraduate programs for anesthesia, surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology. The program is expanding to include nursing, information technology and biomedical engineering.
Through the alliance, doctors and nurses from Scripps Health travel to remote islands in the South Pacific to offer their services. Residents from Scripps Clinic and Scripps Green Hospital have an opportunity to participate in the medical missions as one of their rotations.
“Thanks to this collaboration, we are helping a lot of people and our doctors and nurses are getting invaluable experience in a developing country,” said Dr. Hendricks.
The efforts have also made a name for Scripps Health far beyond San Diego County.
“From the villagers to the local physicians who treat them, Scripps is well known," Dr. Hendricks says. "The organization is supporting medical education for a whole section of the world.”
In 2003, the medical missions expanded. Dr. Hendricks, plastic surgeon Gerald Schneider, MD, and four nurses embarked on the first surgical trip to Fiji. From cleft palates to hernias, they performed 35 operations.
Scripps Clinic ophthalmologist Victor Zablit, MD, joined the team to perform cataract removal surgeries. Three more surgical trips and more than 120 procedures followed. Each time, the locations became more remote.
“A lack of resources always poses a challenge,” said Hendricks. “It can be tough to properly diagnose and treat someone without the high tech tools we have at home, especially when we see diseases we’ve only read about in text books.”
Logistics are painful, too. Fiji has all of the bureaucratic hallmarks of an underdeveloped country — and it is an obstacle course. The nation is an archipelago made up of more than 300 islands; about one-third are inhabited.
“Getting the equipment there is a nightmare,” asserted Hendricks. “It takes months to transport supplies to our location, but with each year and each trip, we are able to fine tune ourselves to better meet the needs of the Pacific Islanders.”
Through the Loloma Foundation and the Scripps Health Fiji Alliance, Dr. Hendricks says thousands of people in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are leading a better life. Last year in the Solomon Islands, a clinical team of 14 practitioners provided care to 4,500 patients in just two weeks.
More humanitarian help is on the way with two trips on the schedule. A medical and surgical team will depart again for the Solomon Islands in August of this year. In 2010, a group is going to Fiji’s northern island of Rotuma to perform surgeries.
“Every trip involves the commitment of literally dozens of people who give their time, talent and resources to help the less fortunate people on these islands,” said Dr. Hendricks. “I’m grateful to them for making this all possible.”
If you would like more information about supporting the Scripps Health Fiji Alliance, contact the Scripps Health Foundation at 858-554-3971. To learn more about Dr. Hendricks’ humanitarian work, visit www.lolomafoundation.org.