Local patients of Boca Raton’s Dr. Mitchell Schuster better catch him quick.
The general practitioner known for his charitable work in the Third World following natural disasters is in between trips to Nepal, where two strong earthquakes and their aftershocks have killed more than 8,000 people.
Relief in Nepal is badly needed. CNN reported Friday only about 14 percent of the aid sought by the United Nations for the Asian country has been met — or about $59 million of the $423 million sought. Victims say they fear the upcoming monsoon season because of a lack of shelter and possible mudslides.
After the April 26 earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale, Schuster headed a group of 17 doctors and medical personnel from around the country to Nepal five days after the tragedy.
Nestled between India and Tibet, the country is ground zero for seismic activity, where the Indian subcontinent and Eurasian content collided millions of years ago, creating the Himalayan Mountains. Eight of the world’s tallest peaks are found in the country.
“The damage in Kathmandu was spotty. There would be a few houses destroyed and a whole block left unscathed. Outside Kathmandu was the epicenter areas where 80 to 90 percent was destroyed,” Schuster said.
“We found this group called the Mother’s Group, which was a social services organization in an area on the outskirts of Kathmandu where there was a lot of damage and death, and we worked with them and we set up a two-day clinic health center there where we saw 400 people.”
The team was able to treat 847 patients throughout the duration of the trip.
A lot of the focus during the 10-day trip was on distributing rice and beans around Kathmandu and coordinating transportation up into the devastated mountain region of Nepal, where many of the fatalities occurred.
“They really did not need doctors as much as they needed food and shelter,” he said. “They were actually turning doctor teams away.”
There was also efforts to bring in the wheat harvest despite the devastation because without new crops in the ground, there will be starvation during the fall harvest, he said.
As the group was on its way home, another 7.3 earthquake shook the region on May 12. “Everybody had gone back into their homes,” Schuster said.
Providing relief to earthquake victims is not new to Schuster, who travelled to Haiti numerous times following the 2010 earthquake that nearly leveled the Caribbean country, including most government buildings, killing 300,000 people.
The next trip is scheduled to leave June 9 with a group including 15 medical students. The focus this time — besides providing medical care where needed — will be on shelter.
Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Medical Executive Committee representing all of the doctors on staff has donated $10,000 for this effort.
“We want to buy tin sheet metal roofing material,” Schuster said. “Right now, they have these canvas, tarp tents they are living in. They are going to get blown away in the 40-to-50 mph gusts during the monsoon.”
There is also fear of disease because of unsanitary conditions, so there will be an effort to build latrines, especially up in the mountains. “This is the time we have to be concerned about dysentery, cholera, typhoid, etc.”
Schuster has taken humanitarian efforts into the Third World since the early 1990s, going to the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Haiti and other countries. He first travelled to Nepal in 2002 and his charity has taken medical students to the country for a decade.
He works with Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Tulane Medical School in New Orleans and Temple Medical School in Philadelphia, among others.
It’s a family affair. Schuster’s wife, Tess. and their four children — now all adults — have accompanied him on missions. His daughter, Jessica, who serves as the executive director of his Bicol Clinic Foundation, said she remembers a hectic childhood.
“A lot of days I remember packing boxes for him with medical supplies. We were always proud and I think it helped us grow into more compassionate human beings,” she said.
It is Tess Schuster who often pushes him out the door when a certain disaster calls. That was the case when the first earthquake hit Nepal.
Schuster said he finds it healthy not to differentiate between a senior citizen in Boca Raton suffering from debilitating arthritis and a child in Haiti with dysentery because of conditions. He consider the work overseas a duty, not a calling, and tries to keep it to two months out of the year.
“The patients do at times get frustrated and upset,” Schuster said. “Since I do these works, they tend to suppress their discomfort and anger.”
Those looking to help Schuster’s effort can make a donation at www.bicolclinic.org or call (561) 864-0298.
Dr. Mitchell Schuster to the rescue
Some relief efforts coordinated by the Boca Raton internist
1992: Somalia (famine)
1990-94: Grenadine Islands (poverty)
1992-2005: Philippines (poverty)
2005: Sri Lanka (tsunami)
2010-2015: Haiti (earthquake)
2014: Philippines (typhoon)
2015: Nepal (earthquake)