Get to Know the 2017 MedicalMissions.org Advanced Practitioner of the Year
and other volunteers with organizations sponsoring medical missions all over the world.
Advanced Practitioner Honoree: Deborah Bell, Nurse Practitioner, Family Practice, Longview, Texas
Deborah Bell, Nurse Practitioner, Family Practice
Almost 18 years ago, Deborah Bell went on her first mission trip as a nurse practitioner to Guatemala. She was immediately overcome with emotion when she saw children dying from common illnesses, like diarrhea and pneumonia, which are easily treatable in the United States.
The Indigenous women of Guatemala are among the most marginalized women in the world. Living in Texas, Deborah couldn’t comprehend how these women and their children were suffering so close to her own home. "These people were closer to me than my own nation’s capital. The poverty and needs I encountered were overwhelming at first, but then I decided we could help… one person… one family… one village at a time. "
Two years later, in 2003, Refuge International was born. Through this organization Deborah brings medical help to Guatemala. They have continued to grow under her leadership and this year 14 medical teams will travel there. Deborah’s group is working hard to decrease perinatal mortality rates and cervical cancer deaths. She and her team focus on treating each woman with dignity and compassion.
"We work in four different areas of Guatemala, returning time after time, hoping to create ‘pockets of wellness’ in each area. We hope to continue to add to the areas where we are working, creating more and more of these pockets of wellness."
Founding an organization to provide healthcare services was not enough for Deborah. Instead of just treating the unhealthy Guatemalans, she decided she could help prevent their diseases before they arose.
"On my first visit to Guatemala I saw a boy in clinic who was 10 months old and he was dying. He had been sick with diarrhea for four days and was dehydrated. He was limp, his eyes were rolled back in his head and when he cried there were no tears. We treated him for amoebiasis and gave him IV fluids. He was accompanied by his mother and grandmother. At about 4:00 p.m. they became restless and told us they needed to leave or they would not be able to get home as they had a three-hour walk and it would be dark before they arrived home. As I watched them leave, I knew that the boy would continue drinking from the same water source. So we held our first fundraiser and raised the money to buy a portable water drill and I went to drilling school." Their clean water initiative continues alongside their medical missions.
"Ms. Bell is the definition of a servant leader," adds Shannon Hilton, another member of Refuge International. "She has put her heart and soul into creating an organization which has served thousands of Guatemalan citizens over the years."
Deborah providing hands-on health care to women and children in Guatemala.
Last year alone, the organization performed over 250 life-changing surgeries, cared for over 8,000 people in the clinic, treated four million children for parasites, funded two full-time school teachers and continued to work on clean water projects for rural Guatemala. "The opportunities for sustainable change created by Refuge International would not have been possible if not for the vision of Deborah Bell."
Deborah Bell is a family practice nurse practitioner practicing in Longview, Texas. She has been a nurse for 34 years and a nurse practitioner for 17. She currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for Refuge International.
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