Three members of Lompoc Valley Medical Center (LVMC)’s clinical staff are heading this week to a remote island near Fiji on a medical mission. Perioperative Services Director Katie Gorndt and Surgical Technicians Marisol Ruiz and Francesca Davis leave Friday for 10 days on Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.
The three will join local Ophthalmologist, Dr. Randall Goodman, to visit and work at the Mission at Natuvu Creek, on the eastern coast of the 200,000-resident island. The 7,000-square-foot facility is open four hours each weekday, and various surgeries are conducted depending on the specialties of visiting physicians.
For about 10 days, the three LVMC employees will assist Dr. Goodman as he conducts much-needed eye surgeries, such as cataract repair and ptyergium damage. Ptyergium often called “surfer’s eye” strikes people who spend a lot of time outdoors, and is a pink, fleshy tissue that grows on the whites of the eye. According to the Mission leaders, even though the Fijian government works diligently to provide free medical care, “specialized care is often not available or accessible, either geographically or financially.
The result is many suffer acutely from debilitating, but treatable skin diseases, blindness, heart disease, various injuries, tooth decay, and more.” Two years ago, Gorndt went on the trip with Registered Nurse Megan Branson. On that trip, Gorndt said they assisted with 90 cataract surgeries and 200 eye exams. They also helped in a dental clinic.
“I’m hoping to do more this year,” she said. “The experience was so enlightening. I feel I want to experience that again. I want to make it a normal habit in my life by giving back to the world.” Next year, she’s hoping to do a medical mission to the Dominican Republic.
An LVMC employee for the past six years, Gorndt said her job has been heavily weighted to the administrative side in recent years, and she appreciates being more hands-on with nursing care while in Fiji. She became a surgical tech at the age of 20 and moved through the nursing ranks.
“I’m excited to have this experience with these two techs,” she said. “It’s such a cool experience. I’m super grateful to be able to go.” Surgical Tech Davis said she had heard about the medical mission and the opportunity surfaced to be involved this year. In addition to working at LVMC, she is a nursing student at Santa Barbara City College and worried about missing school. She opted to go on the trip when her instructor gave her the go-ahead.
“I wanted to do it,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to give back.”
Davis was raised in Lompoc and graduated from Cabrillo High School in 2004. This will be her first trip out of the U.S. Surgical Tech Ruiz has worked at LVMC for eight years and said the medical mission trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity. She is a 2007 graduate of Lompoc High School.
“I wanted to get the experience helping people we don’t even know,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.” She’s heard the stories Gorndt told her about gratitude of the Islanders after their surgeries.
“I’m excited,” she said. “They are going to be able to see. She said they were so amazed to see the light.” In addition to Dr. Goodman, the Clinic will be aided by ophthalmologist Ronald Allen and Dentist Douglas Ng. The examinations and medical services are free for the residents of the island.
Three members of the LVMC Perioperative Services department have arrived safely in Fiji and are already assisting with surgeries.
The LVMC team is working via the medical aid mission known as Mission at Natuvu Creek.
The group has already been in the operating room helping surgeons give medical care to island residents.