Dr. Sawyer Serving with Samaritan's Purse

Dr. Sawyer Serving with Samaritan's Purse
Papua New Guinea

Friday, March 19, 2021

This is what it feels like...


International travel during a pandemic is challenging. All flights have been cancelled through Johannesburg due to the new Covid-19 strain there, and Air France cancelled their Nairobi flights from Paris, leaving me the best next option of flying through Amsterdam, which has some of the most stringent Covid-19 testing requirements anywhere in the world. 

But the doors have stayed open, and on Friday, March 19, I will have a PCR Covid-19 test at a hospital that can give me the results in just 3 hours, and then a rapid test on Sunday morning at the Phoenix airport, just three hours before my plane departs. All of this is necessary just in order to transit through Amsterdam on Monday. 

The best part was watching 750 pounds of surgical instruments, medical supplies, and PPE (personal protective equipment) leave my garage on a pallet to be sent by air freight to Zambia. In these last few months I have learned more about the air freight business than I ever wanted to know. But I'm so grateful that this was an option, as what is inside the boxes on this pallet will be an enormous blessing to the hospital and the patients that we will care for in Zambia. 

In terms of a quarantine period, I will only need to quarantine for a few days, which is fine with me, because the time change is 9 hours, and it takes more than just a few days to adjust to a new time zone. 

I'm hoping to be able to blog more while I'm in Zambia this time. Thank you all for your prayers and for reading this blog post. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Thank you!

I'm truly grateful for everyone who supports this ministry through your giving and through your prayers. 

In anticipation of people coming to this page in response to the 2019 letter that was sent out, here is an easy way to make a one time or set up monthly donations. 

When you click on the link below, scroll down the page to where it says, "FIND DR/MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL" under the heading of SUPPORT A MISSIONARY DOCTOR and in the box type, "SAWYER, ALLAN."  The next page is my account site with Samaritan's Purse and you should see this same picture.  If you see this picture, then you are on the right page.  Here is the link.

Thank you for your support as I prepare to serve in 2020!

Monday, August 5, 2019

On Miracles...

Have you ever prayed for a miracle?
Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
What is the difference between a coincidence and a miracle?

Famous biographer and writer Eric Metaxas was asked by his publisher to write a book on miracles and Eric's initial interest was meager at best. But when Eric tried to refuse, his publisher said that he would find someone else to write the book. Surprised, Eric asked for some time to consider the matter further. He wrote a letter to his intellectual and rather famous friends and asked questions similar to what I have asked above. To his surprise he received what I recall was a 100% affirmative response rate from his friends, and he ended up accepting the assignment, which culminated in the publication of his book, Miracles, in 2014. This book has been translated into over a dozen languages. Although I don't seek for the miraculous, I also believe that I have witnessed miracles.
Image result for eric metaxas miracles
Eric Metaxas' book Miracles.
If only I could recall the author of the quote, but someone once said that miracles are what some people would refer to as coincidences, but which occur at unexplained frequency.

So, I invite you to be the judge. In the past two months I think that I have witnessed four events which I would classify as miracles.  Here are the events below, from my perspective, as I witnessed them, and why I consider each to be miraculous.

#1. Hold the Plane: Due to the anti-human trafficking laws in Johannesburg, South Africa, we were required to carry with us extra documentation regarding the minors who were traveling with us through Johannesburg to Zambia.  This created some problems, as our Chinese adopted daughters do not have the same names today as they did when they were born, and when we tried to check in for our flight in Atlanta to Johannesburg, we were stopped at the gate, as we didn't have any proof that the birth certificates with our daughters Chinese names in fact were the same daughters that we have passports for with their American names.  The giant Boeing 777 that was scheduled to fly us for the next 16 hours was supposed to start boarding in 30 minutes, and we were being denied passage without the needed documentation.
Image result for delta boeing 777
Delta Airlines Flight 200

As I stood at the gate counter in Atlanta, while the gate agent was making telephone calls to supervisors, I quietly was praying that God would intervene...and quickly.  After the first telephone call, the agent said that we would need to return to Arizona and obtain proof that our daughters were indeed our daughters.  That would mean putting 7 people back on a return flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, along with 22 pieces of luggage and medical supplies, and canceling our trip to Zambia. This would be a huge logistics nightmare.

I asked the gate agent to call another supervisor. As the minutes ticked away it became very clear that we were going to miss our flight. The gate agent hung up the phone again and told us that we were not going to be able to board. He then got up and went into an office as we stood and waited and prayed.  Then there was an announcement that the plane was delayed and that another plane was being prepared, but that the flight was delayed about 30 minutes. Everyone in the waiting area groaned, except for us.

For the next 90 minutes the gate agent was making calls, which were resulting in calls being made to South Africa to South African Customs and Immigration.  The plane kept being delayed, from 30 minutes to 2 hours! Ten minutes before the plane started to board, the gate agent hung up the phone with a poker face, looked directly at us, and as the corners of his mouth began to rise, told us that we were approved by South African Customs and Immigration to board our flight. Ten minutes later we were boarded the flight and the plane took off for Johannesburg a few minutes after that.

From our perspective we had witnessed a miracle. The other 390 plus people on this flight had been held up so that our group of 7 and our 22 bags of luggage and medical supplies could travel to Zambia to help to serve at the mission hospital there.  Delta flight 200 has a 76% on-time record, and is only "very late" 5% of the time. This time it seems that God was the one holding up the flight, although I don't think that the FAA would accept that as a reason.

#2. Good Medicine:  Several months before we headed to Zambia, I asked the head doctor at the hospital there which medicines were needed the most. The answer was a bit generic, but was essentially that "we need everything." So when I placed an order for medicines with an organization called Americares, I searched down the list of available medications and chose the ones that from my experience at other mission hospitals would likely be the ones most needed.

But when I toured the pharmacy at the hospital in Zambia, I realized that the 300 pounds of medications that we had brought, with a retail value of tens of thousands of dollars, filled the gaps of the pharmacy shelves. I could not have done better if it had been then pharmacists themselves who had told me of what their needs were. Also, the situation is very fluid, because which medications are going to be in short supply in a few months would have been a complete guess, yet what was contained in our luggage was exactly what was needed at that time that we arrived.  Again, from my perspective, this had been divine intervention on so many levels, and appeared to be God sending exactly what was needed when it was needed. Hundreds of patients were able to receive exactly the correct antibiotics and other medicines that they needed.

#3. For Hearts and Souls: One morning during our morning report at the hospital we were asked to go to see a little boy who was suffering from failure to thrive. He had a very loud heart murmur, and his physical findings were remarkable. During our rounds we stopped by the pediatric ward and found this sweet little boy on the bed with his mother.  He was dressed in a green outfit and greeted us with a huge smile while we listened to his heart and put our hands on his chest. His chest x-ray showed that he had an enormous heart and the scale revealed that he was not thriving.

I took a picture and video of the sweet little boy, along with a recording of the sound of his heart murmur and his x-ray and sent them to a friend of mine, Dr. Kirk Milhoan, who is a pediatric cardiologist in Hawaii.  I need to digress for a second. Do you know what antipodes are?  Antipodes are points on the earth that are exact opposites of each other.  Well, it turns out that the antipodes for the northwest region of Zambia (which is where we were) are the Hawaiian Islands (which is where Dr. Kirk Milhoan lives). I had sent a pediatric cardiology consultation to a doctor on the exact opposite side of the world!
Dr. Kirk Milhoan
Pediatric Cardiologist & Pastor
For Hearts and Souls

A few minutes after sending the images and records to Dr. Milhoan, he responded to me and told me the possible diagnoses, but also then told me that he and his pediatric cardiac team would be in Lusaka, Zambia, in a few weeks, and that his organization, For Hearts and Souls, would pay all of the expenses for this little boy and his mother to fly to the capital city to be seen and cared for by Dr. Milhoan and his team. I had no idea that Dr. Milhoan would be in Zambia. I had never asked for a cardiac consultation from Dr. Milhoan before. I knew that he traveled and taught around the world, but I had no idea that he was coming to Zambia. From my perspective, this was God providing the doctors and the means for this little boy to receive his care, and from my perspective this was an incredible miracle. 

Addendum: On August 8th this little boy underwent a cardiac procedure closing a large defect. The surgery was performed by the cardiac team with For Hearts and Souls in Lusaka, Zambia.

#4. Out of My Comfort Zone: In the United States when a doctor takes call at a hospital, they are generally only taking call for their own specialty. That is not the case for the rest of the world, and especially not in a limited resource setting. So, my first night on call in Zambia, the telephone rang after I was already sound asleep telling me that a pedestrian had been hit by a car and that he was in the operating room waiting for me to see him. I knew that wasn't good if he was already in the operating room and not in the emergency room. So I dressed quickly and while I walked to the hospital, I opened my Samsung tablet and started reading about trauma care.

The man had suffered head trauma, multiple lacerations of his head, arms and legs, and above his right foot his tibia was protruding through the skin and his right foot was dangling at an awkward angle.  Fortunately, however, there was a vascular surgeon at the hospital that night, visiting from Texas, and I called him on the phone and asked him to come. A quick ultrasound of the man's abdomen revealed that there was a lot of fluid in his abdomen, which based on his poor vital signs was presumably blood, so the surgeon had the anesthetist put the man under anesthesia, and with a quick stroke of the scalpel a small incision was made, revealing that the man's belly was filled with blood. Another stroke of the scalpel opened the man's belly from just below his sternum all the way down to his pubic bone.

I watched carefully as the vascular surgeon placed packs inside the abdomen to absorb the blood. Inspection of the man's liver showed the source of most of the blood. The liver had a big crevice running up the right lobe of the liver revealing the consequence of the impact of his body against the moving car. There also was a small laceration in his spleen. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to watch carefully, as for the next 12 days I would be the only surgeon at the hospital, and may have to do something like this on my own sometime in the next few weeks.  The vascular surgeon then showed me how to place a piece of surgical cloth that helps blood to clot and to sew it into the crevice in the liver.  Even after a quarter of a century of doing surgery, I had never sewn a liver before. The man was on his way to making a recovery.

Two weeks later, while on call again, the hospital called asking me to see a man who had been riding his bicycle and lost control and hit a parked car, causing him to flip over the top of the car. He hit the ground and lacerated his arm and lost consciousness. When I saw him, he was awake, and I did the trauma exam like I had witnessed the vascular surgeon do a few weeks earlier.  The man had pain over the front and back side of his liver.  An ultrasound revealed fluid in his abdomen, and his vital signs showed a low blood pressure and a rapid pulse.  I knew that this man, too, had ruptured his liver. We rushed him to the operating room. To make matters even worse, we knew that the blood supply at the hospital, as well as in the entire country, was limited, and I didn't know if we would have any blood to transfuse.  Fortunately I was not the only surgeon at the hospital this day, and was grateful for the other surgeon to join me in the operating room.

There was a visiting team of 5 anesthetists from North Carolina volunteering at the hospital during this time. If I recall correctly, I think all five of them rushed down to help with this surgery.

Our anesthetist team put him under anesthesia and a small incision on his abdomen, which revealed that his belly was full of blood. Then the incision was extended from below his sternum, down around his belly button, and all the way to his pubic bone. Liters of blood filled his belly, and we packed his belly with gauze to soak up all the blood. Examination of his liver revealed not only a huge crevice in the right lobe of the liver, but it was in the exact same spot where the prior patient had ruptured his liver. Because of the prior surgery I knew exactly what to do, and I was able to repair the injury, thus saving this man's life. Also, because this man's blood count had been so good before his injury, he did not require a blood transfusion, in spite of losing a lot of blood.  Less than two weeks later he was discharged from the hospital.  It turned out, also, that we didn't have any compatible blood to give to him. He had survived losing a huge amount of blood without needing to have a blood transfusion.

From my perspective, the fact that I had been on call and that I had just been shown how to do the same surgery two weeks earlier, and that this man did not require a blood transfusion, were all things pointing toward miraculous intervention. God had also provided not one, but five anesthetists to help with the anesthesia to save this man's life.  I don't need any kind of special corrective lenses to see what God had done.

Psalm 136:4 says,"to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever." From what I have seen in the past two months, I agree. God still does miracles, but we need to keep our eyes open so that we can see the wonders that he does.   

Have you prayed for a miracle? Have you seen a miracle? I would love to hear from you. Please write your miracles below, or respond to me as a comment on Facebook, or send me a personal message, or mail a letter to me at Allan Sawyer, PO Box 11660, Glendale, AZ 85318-1660.  I would encourage you to read Eric Metaxas' book, Miracles.

Together let's taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Words of Affirmation

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV) says, "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

My wife would be the first to tell you that I LOVE words of affirmation, and I'm particularly sensitive to words of criticism. Recently while speaking at a Christian medical missionary conference in Orlando, Florida, I shared a truth that I had discovered about being a short-term medical missionary. That "truth" is that it is far better to go to serve at a mission hospital and to watch for what is good rather than to point out what is bad. Then I shared with the audience that I, too, LOVE words of affirmation, and half jokingly said, "so if you liked what I had to say today, then please come up and tell me what a good job I did; and if you didn't like what I had to say today, then please don't say anything." 

Well, as you would guess, after my presentation was over, people from the audience came up to tell me what a good job I had done, and that they found my presentation very helpful and interesting.  Even if they were being disingenuous, I still LOVED their words of affirmation.

But this also caused me to have a moment of self reflection; actually, far more than just a moment, but rather weeks of reflection about how critical I have been in the past, in fact, for most of my career. It seems I have a particularly keen eye for what is wrong with something, and am more than willing to point out how something could be fixed. But my eyes are often myopic when trying to see what is good, admirable, and perfect. 

So, as I departed this time to go back onto the mission field to serve, I made an intentional effort to see what was good, admirable and perfect; to look for the excellence and incredible intellectual and character traits in the people around me.  But not just to leave it at the point of observation, but also to speak aloud and articulate what I see is good, admirable and perfect; in essence, to speak aloud those words of affirmation that I, too, so LOVE to hear. 

Just a few days ago, five short-term physicians left after covering for the long-term physicians who had been away at a conference. I wrote each one of them a note, telling them the positive attributes that I had witnessed in them, and how grateful I was to serve beside them. Several of them messaged me back to tell me how much these words of affirmation meant to them.

My challenge for myself, and for you, today, is to keep your eyes open and focused on what is true, honorable and just; watch for things that are pure, lovely and commendable; searching for what is praiseworthy.  Then open my (your) mouth and speak those words of affirmation people love to hear; spurring them on to do more good and to LOVE more. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Doing Something Bigger Than Yourself...

In late November 2018, I was returning home to Arizona from Saipan.  One month earlier I had never heard of Saipan.  On October 24, 2018, super typhoon Yutu hit this small Pacific Island with a category 5 typhoon, with winds from 180 to 230 miles per hour that continued for five hours. Samaritan's Purse deployed their DC-8 along with their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to go to serve on Saipan and the sister island, Tinian.

After being home for a month, and allowing the thoughts simmer in the back of my mind, it seems that my fingers are ready to write; to type out what has been percolating in my mind.

In early November, my flight landed in Honolulu, where I was to join the rest of the team who were arriving on the Samaritan's Purse DC-8 cargo plane, which, by the way, will turn 50 years old on December 24, 2018.  Of the 20+ people I was joining, I only knew one of them.

When we landed in Saipan, the jet bridge that should connect the terminal to the airplane had been destroyed by the storm.

We met our team leader, Mark Langham, who had only been on the island for 36 hours before we had landed.  He looked like a mix between a contemporary Jesus and a hippie leftover from the sixties who got lost on his way to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco and time warped into 2018.  But what I came to love about Mark was that his external appearances were completely deceiving. The adjectives that describe Mark are: articulate, kind, compassionate, devoted, committed, passionate, uncompromising integrity, insightful, and genuine.

And those are just the ones that are on the tip of my tongue. But then there were another 23+ people who I could say the same thing about. Most mornings, a different team member would speak during our morning devotions; speaking from their life experiences and from their hearts.

As these team members, over the course of about 7 weeks, served the needs of nearly 8,000 homes on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, they were the image of Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15. We watched in amazement as God opened the doors for us to serve. There was one particular marginalized people group in Saipan that lived in three different communities.

One morning we had no idea how we were going to serve the medical needs of this community, and by the end of that day we were doing a medical clinic in front of one of their places of worship and with the blessing of their community leaders.  This scenario repeated itself three more time over the next 5 days.

In a few days I leave for North Carolina to receive training specific to Ebola and then soon after returning to Arizona, I will deploy to serve in an area at high risk for Ebola. I'm grateful for each of you who reads this blog and prays for the work that we are doing. In return, I am praying Romans 15:13 for each of you.  "May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Cup of Water...or a Night of Air Conditioning...

Last month (April 2018) I visited the home of two American nurses in Togo, West Africa.  April is one of the four hot months in northern Togo, located on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.  Temperatures were over 100 degrees every day, with 40% humidity, making it feel like 120 degrees every day. 

At their home, they only had ceiling fans to cool them down and no air conditioner. There is a nurses sleep room nearby with air conditioning, however, it was not being used because it cost $1 an hour to run the air conditioner, and it was complicated to figure out who owed what, so the sleep room wasn't getting used. 

I posted a plea on my Facebook page asking for donations to help pay the cost of air conditioning, and in two weeks, over $8,000 came in so that these nurses could sleep in air conditioning.  Effective immediately, the AC will run 16 hours a day (8 hours during the day for the night shift nurses; and 8 hours at night for the day shift nurses) during the four hot months of the year.  Also, the hospital administrator thinks they may be able to reduce the electricity cost to 50 cents per hour, which means that the $8,000 that was donated is enough to pay for 8 years of air conditioning.  Below are some of the nurses who will benefit from the generosity of so many people. 

As I thought about this gift to these nurses, I thought about how in two of the Gospels is an account of Jesus talking about people giving even a cup of water to someone who is a follower of Jesus, and that the giver of the cup of water will receive their reward.  In much the same way as a cup of water, a night of air conditioning is even better!  Thank you.

I will be returning to Cameroon in June, to teach and serve at Mbingo Baptist Hospital.  My wife and daughters, along with two others, will be joining me for the last three weeks that I am there.

For those interested in financially supporting this work, you can go to the website below and then scroll down to the box that says, "FIND DOCTOR/MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL" and type "SAWYER, ALLAN" in the box.  If you see a picture of me holding a little girl, then you are on the right page.  Thank you!  Here is the link.

My favorite benediction reads as follows:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness and protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing once again through these doors.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

When doctors cry..

After a long labor, I watched the first-time mother give one last push fully expelling her first-born child. The labor had been so long and difficult that the patient was joined by the labor nurse and the doctor in the throngs of exhaustion. But as I wiped the baby and lay this precious new life on the mother’s belly, I heard not just the cry of a baby, but also the muted cry of someone standing behind me.
Earlier in my career I had hosted medical students from a nearby osteopathic medical school. This particular month I had a delightful female student shadow me. She, too, was exhausted from the long labor, and when she witnessed the birth of this baby, the first birth she had ever witnessed, it proved overwhelming for her and she began to cry. Our eyes met as I turned to see who was crying behind me, and she tried even harder to hide her tears. When we walked outside into the hallway, she apologized to me for crying. I put my arm around her and told her that I never wanted her to hide the tears and emotions of compassion and empathy from her patients; that these traits are what would make her a genuinely great physician. Over the years, she has never forgotten this encounter; nor have I.
It doesn’t take much for me to cry. Ask our daughters. It seems I cannot even watch Nemo’s father at the end of the movie allow Nemo to leave the sea anemone alone; or in the movie Wonder, when Augie’s father removes Augie’s space helmet and says to his son, “You are my son, and you are beautiful, and I want to look at my son.” (This was just one of many moments that made me cry watching Wonder.) But these examples are the tears of a father, and not as a doctor.
Looking back at a career in medicine, specifically obstetrics and gynecology, there have been a few moments that come immediately to the forefront of my memory. There were many times of what I would refer to as “doing heart surgery” where my staff and office full of patients would wait patiently for me to finish an appointment where I was speaking more to a patient’s heart than addressing her diagnosis. One such appointment was when I was meeting with a young patient who was at the end of her fight with a horrible and painful cancer. As a Christian she continued to pray for healing, but had reached a point of realization that without an incredible miracle, that this cancer was going to take her life. But like in the story of Daniel in the Old Testament, she would walk through this praising God for being God, and for being a good and loving God. Hearing her say this, I pulled open my laptop in the examination room and asked her to watch a video made by Shane & Shane. Here is the link so you can watch: https://youtu.be/qyUPz6_TciY.
Fortunately, she was the last patient of the day, and after she left the office, I went into my private office and sobbed. I cried because of the apparent injustice of such a beautiful young woman dying of cancer; a woman of incredible courage; a mother; a wife. I cried because there was nothing I could do as a doctor; as a healer; to heal her. And then I cried again as I sat at her funeral, listening to her friends and relatives eulogize her beautiful life.
But this example, like most, was a time when I cried in private. My office staff probably heard me in my office crying, but they left me alone in my grief. Looking back over my career, however, there have been some memorable and moving times where my crying did not occur behind closed doors, but rather quite publicly.
Nine years ago today, on April 13, 2009, a baby boy was born who was given a middle name that was one of my middle names. This little life would not be long in this world, as his lifespan was measured in minutes rather than decades. His story is what prompted me to write this blog today. His parents asked for me to eulogize their son, and so I set out to write a eulogy about the meaning of each of his three given names. A week later, in a church filled to capacity, I looked out over the sea of people who had come to support this baby boy’s family. As he was the son of a police officer, half of the room was filled with police officers and their spouses. I began to weave my way through the eulogy, tying together the names this couple had given their son, and bringing to light the significance of his names. But nearly halfway through the eulogy, my throat swelled, and tears flowed freely down my face. My eyes connected with the eyes of the pastor who was sitting several rows behind the parents. His lips moved and I recognized what he was saying, “Would you like for me to finish?” These seven words were gladly received, and we traded positions; he at the pulpit, and me seated behind the parents. This brilliant pastor had seen where I was going, and as if planned this way, he skillfully wove the eulogy to completion in a manner that was far better than I could have done. As a doctor, I couldn’t save the life of this baby boy, and because of my grief, I could not even finish his eulogy.
The last time that I cried for a patient was yesterday.
After having spoken to the family of a sudden and very unexpected loss, I sat alone in the counselling room and finished drafting the medical report. As I finished the last line of the report, another doctor who had helped me walked back into the room and sat silently across from me. I closed the chart and set down my pen and walked across the room and sat next to her. Seeing her tears caused the tears rimming my eyes to flow freely down my face. We sat together, prayed together, and she shared some insight into her own grieving for patients that is not for me to share. But here in this tiny room in this corner of the world sat two doctors reeling from the events of the day. It was a solemn moment; a beautiful moment; a moment that would be conducive to the healing of two healers’ hearts.
My brain wants to spiritualize this message; or to have some profound conclusion to it, but my heart says to just come quickly to a period at the end of the sentence and be finished. You can draw you own conclusion, and perhaps that is best.
Has a doctor ever cried with you?
Have you ever seen a doctor in a professional setting weep openly?
Were they tears of joy?
Were they tears of sorrow?
Please share your thoughts with me, either publicly or privately. I would love to hear from you.