Life-changing inspiration endures 8,000 miles away

After three medical mission trips to Tenwek Hospital in rural Kenya, Carle gastroenterologist Jeffrey Hallett, MD, realized what amazed him most.

Everyday occurrences there, he said, represent unimaginable conditions here in the United States. This had such an impact that he now admits a piece of him always stays with the people he helped in Kenya.

“There were times, actually up to four or five different instances per day, in which people came in with esophageal cancer. It was so bad that they could no longer eat or drink,” Dr. Hallett said. “When they come to Tenwek, I’m sure many are at the end of their rope and are ready to give up.

“But they come to a place that is miraculous in many different ways.”

He went on his first medical mission trip to Tenwek in 2011, after hearing about the hospital through friends at church.

He couldn’t stay away.

“I was immediately drawn to the idea of helping out,” he said. “At that time it appealed to me to go and do something positive through a medical mission.”

He believes the 300-bed hospital isn’t miraculous because it’s state-of-the-art. Instead, its greatest achievement is the impact a few unified people can have on a great many.

This notion represents part of the reason he started and still practices medicine.

Mission hospitals like Tenwek also make it a point to take in African nationals and train them as physicians, surgeons and nurses. The expectation is for them to learn first and then disperse throughout the continent to open up new mission hospitals.

Through this experience, Dr. Hallett has met surgeons from Mali, Burundi, Cameroon and Nigeria.

“The real rush of it all is to impart a skill that I know will then spread and be useful to many others,” Dr. Hallett said.

While the work is just beginning, a few Carle colleagues have helped to see it through thus far.

He and two other employees—Diane Williford, RN, of the Digestive Health Institute. and healthcare tech Jennifer Smith—helped provide, place and train in the use of hand-sanitizing machines. These machines are everywhere at Carle, but at Tenwek this level of sanitation was missing.

He even brought his daughter, Lindsey, on one trip and his wife, Catherine, on another.

“There is no doubt about it; medical missions change people in profound and permanent ways,” he said. “In my practice, I’m more likely to offer prayer as part of whole-person treatment and healing, and I am more apt to see my activities as a vocation rather than a job.”