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From accidents to malaria: ER doctor headed to Uganda

Staff writer

A Marion emergency room physician will spend two weeks treating patients with malaria, head and back pain, injuries, and the like when he goes to Uganda with Medical Missions Foundation.

This month Don Hodson will make his fourth trip to Uganda to work in a medical clinic outside the city of Gulu in northern Uganda.

It was a local pharmacist who inspired Hodson to undertake mission work. Lisa Buchholz, who grew up in Marion and now lives in the Kansas City area, started going to Uganda with the group several years ago and talked to Hodson about it.

“She’d been talking to me about going on mission trips for quite a few years and I never could work it into my life,” Hodson said. “One of the reasons I made my retirement in 2014 was so I could go on mission trips.”

Hodson said in Uganda he sees women carrying heavy loads balanced on their heads, and it often results in a trip to see him for back pain, neck pain, and body aches.

“Often the interpreter says they have chest pain, and a lot of those women, if you just push on their head, they say ‘yes,’” Hodson said.

He also sees many patients with malaria. It can be effectively treated in the young, but if not treated early enough, malaria causes lifelong, chronic illness.

“This year we’re taking a dedicated malaria team,” Hodson said.

Not all patients’ needs can be handled at the clinic, he said. He once treated a teen girl with malaria and a 107-degree fever who would not get better no matter what the medical team tried. She had to be loaded onto a bus and taken to a Gulu hospital.

He sees so many patients with vision problems that he buys reading glasses to take with him on his trips to Uganda.

“Just like us, they get to about 40 and need them,” Hodson said. “There’s no place to buy them.”

People do walk in with abscesses and infections, but headaches and backaches are more common, Hodson said.

Hodson is assigned to work in the clinics because he is not a surgeon.

“We’ll spend a couple days at each clinic,” Hodson said. “Usually on Friday we’ll end up going to a Catholic school to see the middle and high school kids.”

Clinics are in concrete buildings. Patients waiting to be seen sit outside in tents that provide shade.

None of the clinics where he’s worked has had running water.

Despite its tropical climate, Uganda is not as uncomfortable as it might seem, he said. Temperatures are often in the mid-80s.

“It’s usually not oppressive,” Hodson said.

Hodson has thought about doing mission work with other groups, but hasn’t found a different group where he wants to volunteer. Medical Missions Foundation defrays some of the cost of the trip for volunteers.

“If you go on a lot of these, it gets expensive,” Hodson said. “This trip is pretty fulfilling, and I’m busy enough with life I haven’t wanted to do anything else.”

A bit of Marion will be going with Hodson. A volunteer group called “Sew Much Love” at Eastmoor United Methodist Church is sending 50 pillowcase dresses with him. He’s taken their dresses in previous years as well.

Another volunteer is taking a similar number of dresses made by another group.

Medical Missions also has a program to collect AFRIpads, underwear, soap, washcloths, whistles, and a baggie to wash the pad. Buchholz collects donations for the AFRIpads program.

Uganda is a landlocked nation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Its population is 38 million in an area roughly the size of Oregon.

Uganda’s poverty rate is 19.7 percent.

Early childbearing, short birth intervals, and high numbers of births create a maternal mortality rate of 343 deaths per 100,000 births, compared to 26 in the U.S. Uganda’s infant mortality rate is 57.6 deaths per 1,000 births, compared to six in the U.S.

Source: The World Factbook

Last modified Sept. 7, 2017

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