Caring with Compassion

For the last four years, Lisa Bernard has spent one week a year working 12-hour days providing surgical care to children from all over Central America. And for most of that time, her daughter Abbey has gone with her. 

Lisa, a part-time anesthesiologist, is a volunteer with Medical Mission Foundation, which is devoted to providing free surgical and medical care to children in developing and economically depressed countries. According to its Web site,, the foundation has helped more than 16,000 children around the world since its first mission to the Philippines in 1996. 

“The people are so appreciative of us helping them,” says Lisa. “They’re just very grateful. The kids are very grateful. They come up and give you hugs.”

Lisa started volunteering four years ago in Panama. The second year, Abbey, who will soon be a junior in high school, asked if she could come along. The two went to Panama together then traveled to Guatemala and will return to Guatemala again this summer.

“She let me come to Panama, and I just loved hanging out with the kids,” says Abbey. “It was just cool to really broaden my perspective.”

Each year that the two volunteer unfolds a little differently, but each year it seems the number of volunteers and the number of patients grow. Prior to the medical team arriving, the foundation publicizes locally to let people know they will be there. And each year there are hundreds of people that come for help from all over the area. 

“If the doctors start seeing [the patients] around 9 a.m., they’ve been waiting there for four hours in line,” says Abbey.

Of course, not every ailment can be treated. According to Lisa, since they can only see patients for short amounts of time, they have to send the serious cases elsewhere. 

“They’re probably in the waiting room for 15 minutes, then they get operated on, then they’re in recovery for an hour, so it’s just so quick you don’t really get to know them that well. But they’re all so thankful,” says Abbey.

Lisa says a large number of their cases are burns, plastic surgery and ear, nose and throat problems. She says they fix a lot of cleft lips of children who live in the hospital because their parents cannot care for them.

 “A lot of these kids, they’ve lived their whole life in the hospital facility, and when we fix them, they can go home to their families,” says Lisa.

Whereas Lisa works in the operating room all day with surgeons and other nurses, Abbey is on the Art Team, which includes anyone from photographers to bloggers to translators. She gets to spend more one-on-one time with the patients.

“I just spend time with the kids before and after surgery because obviously they’re scared, and this is so new to them,” says Abbey. 

The two intend to keep volunteering together, and Abbey says she wants to go to Mali sometime soon. Because of Lisa’s profession and the medical missions, Abbey says she is now interested in pursuing a career in the medical field when she goes to college in two years.

words: Willow Williamson