Murrysville spouses plan return to Cambodia on medical mission

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

As a psychiatric nurse, Laurel Houck wasn't used to diagnosing a heart defect. But in the orphanages of Cambodia, a stethoscope and medical knowledge go a long way in helping patients.

During her last visit two years ago to the southeast Asian country, Houck, 63, was taking the pulse of a young girl and found she had a life-threatening heart defect – by simply using a stethesope.

“She wouldn't have lived without treatment,” the Murrysville nurse said. “While we weren't able to fix her problem, we took a little girl who would have died and helped her get the surgery she needed in Vietnam.”

Houck and her husband, Harry Mundorff, will return to Cambodia next month with two doctors to work with orphans and other Cambodians who need medical attention. For some of the children the team will see, it will be the first medical exam of their lives.

“These are people who are truly needy,” the Murrysville nurse said. “They have no recourse but (to rely on) the kindness of strangers. They're so very grateful, from the smallest smile and hug to treatment for a disease they didn't know they had.”

Both registered nurses, Houck and Mundorff will work with the doctors to provide rudimentary health screenings in several orphanages and villages. The group first travelled to Cambodia about two years ago as part of a medical mission trip with their church, Riverside Community Church in Oakmont. This time, they're going alone to meet up with I Love Cambodia, a small group of medical personnel based in the southeast Asian country.

During their last trip, the group helped diagnose a boy with testicular cancer and an adult with a possible heart attack. They treated dozens of cases of lice and worms.

“We try and do the most basic things we can do to help,” Houck said. “There's no pharmacy out there, unless you go into the bigger cities.”

There are few medical personnel in Cambodia. According to the World Health Organization, there are 2.3 physicians and 7.9 nurses or midwives per 10,000 people in Cambodia.

The regional average is 15.2 physicians and 19.5 nurses or midwives.

In the United States, the average is 24 physicians and 98 nurses or midwives.

Doctors and nurses – as well as those in other educated professions – have been scarce in the country after the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. As many as 2 million Cambodians were killed, including many who were educated.

“There is so much need – even the poor in the United States have services available,” Houck said. “But there is no safety net in Cambodia.”

Knowledge is an obstacle. While the orphans receive good care, Houck said, the “house mothers” don't necessarily know how to identify or treat an infection or a virus.

“In this country, we know if you have an infection, you need Amoxicillin,” Houck said. “There, they have very, very basic knowledge.”

Any donations made – Houck and Mundorff hope to raise at least $1,000 – will pay for medication first, equipment second.

If money remains, they hope to buy a year's supply of vitamins for the orphans.

In Cambodia, access to medication isn't the problem — it's finding someone who has the knowledge of what pill treats what condition and having the money to buy the drug.

“We can travel from a village, walk in and ask ‘Can I have a Z-pack' and get it so cheap,” Mundorff said. “A dollar and a little knowledge goes a long way.”

The group plans to equip villages and orphanages with medical kits that enable caregivers to treat simple things such as cuts and scrapes.

Though Houck said her heart is in Kenya – the pair has traveled to the African country on medical mission trips before – she felt called to return to southeast Asia.

“This trip is to serve God by serving others,” Houck said. “We don't just need money — we need prayers, too.”

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