Uganda Journey

Herbert M. Weinman, MD, ’93 MBA traveled to Uganda this past summer on a medical mission. He and his children own FirstCare Walk-In Medical Center in Highland, NY, across the Hudson from Marist. He has practiced in the area since 1968. He shared thoughts about his trip with Alumni News.

Herbert M. Weinman, MD, and residents in Uganda

Herbert Weinman, MD, with new friends in Uganda

I always pursued what I felt would give me the most satisfaction—it's called following your passion. Being a physician has always allowed me to give to others. Now, in the twilight of my life, I felt I needed to give back in a more meaningful way.

I always envisioned doing more hands-on medicine in a disadvantaged country with people who would really appreciate the effort. Not sure why this trip was on my bucket list but I was sure I’d have answers to that question by the end of my adventure.

My six companions, including the physician assistant from my urgent care center, and I began in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. No alarm clock was needed for wake-ups as the cows mooed outside my window at 5 a.m.—milking time. The city was very congested, and there were no traffic lights, lane markings, or crosswalks. Dr. Mark Kitende, our native Ugandan host, driver, navigator, and interpreter, was very skilled in avoiding everything in his path.

Our first stop was the pharmacy, where we bought about $250 worth of medications which would have cost at least $2,000 in the United States. Lunch awaited us at the church school at which we would hold two days of clinics in a large tent. The pastor and his wife were great hosts, and she prepared a buffet which turned out to be fare similar to what we would eat for the next two weeks: white rice, pasta, salad, beans, and fresh fruit.

On the first clinic day, we saw more than 100 patients in four hours. At the second clinic in Kampala, a local pediatrician joined us as we saw about 150 patients.

Among people we met were women who run an HIV-AIDS project. They make unique beaded necklaces and bracelets out of paper which is cut into pieces, compressed, strung, and lacquered. It takes three to four hours to make each piece, which sells for less than $2.

Our third clinic experience was in a small village about 20 minutes outside of Kampala. As we drove down the bumpy dirt road, locals seeking medical care were already following us. Our clinic was held in a tent with no sides but good protection from the sun.

Three of us plus Dr. Mark, acting as the extraction dentist, saw more than 200 patients. The diseases I saw I usually don't encounter in the U.S.: TB, malaria, worms, and HIV-AIDS. Chief complaints were back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, headaches, the flu, and cough—everyone coughed there as it is so dusty from the unpaved red-clay roads.

On our final night in Kampala our generous hotel owner treated the group to a barbecue: meatballs, salad, fish sticks (made from real fish), and local beer. The owner also provided a specially decorated cake for us.

Next adventure: to the town of Kisoro and gorillas in the wild. We traversed a narrow, dusty, rocky dirt road along a cliff overlooking a beautiful lake. We were greeted by friendly rangers, our own one-man armed escort, and a guide. They collected an entry fee of $500 per person and told us there would be a 50 percent refund if we didn’t see any gorillas (they said this hardly ever happens).

We went by car to the starting point, prepared for a short uphill climb. One and a half hours later, up a trail that varied from 30 to 40 degrees on the mountainside and then through jungle trails, we waited. Eventually trackers radioed our guide saying they had spotted gorillas. Back on the trail, we suddenly cut into the jungle, led by our machete-wielding guide.

Down a slope, then around the corner we encountered our first silverback gorilla, lying on his back as he munched on plants. He looked at us and continued to eat throughout our photo shoot.

Herbert M. Weinman, MD, clinic in Masaka

A clinic near Masaka, Uganda

Our final four nights were in the town of Masaka, the hometown of Dr. Mark and his family. The clinic that Dr. Mark owns here is in the bush, about 30 minutes from town. Still under construction, it has no running water and only a hole in the ground for a toilet.

Our lab work consisted of doing quick tests for malaria and HIV. Here we again used many $5 Wal-Mart specials—generic glasses of different magnification—and "cured" blindness. We also cured deafness by removing wax from many an ear canal.

Other memorable activities included a visit to a church in the bush. The church was made of sticks and straw and had blown down the week before, but it was rebuilt and finished the day before we arrived. About 25 members of the congregation were present, including African drummers. We each stood in front of the congregation and through an interpreter gave a brief comment on who we were and a comment about our mission. It was a moving event.

Then it was off to another church founded 12 years ago by Dr. Mark’s wife, Beatrice, who was the pastor. She had a following of about 4,000 parishioners. We arrived at the end of the service and a wedding ceremony followed. Again we were asked to come on stage and give a brief commentary.

We also visited an orphanage and school founded by Pastor Beatrice with 23 children four years ago in one small building. It now has more than 500 students, of which 280 board there.

As we rolled into the driveway, an amazing sight greeted us. About 100 children were lined up on both sides of the driveway, cheering and waving as tears flowed from our group. We took pictures, sang, and danced with all the children and told stories as they gathered around us.

Later we were on our way, battling rush-hour traffic en route to a 46th birthday party for the wife of the pastor at the tent church where we had held our first clinic. What a treat – African wedding and birthday on the same trip.            

My watch stopped working four days into the trip and I didn't miss it at all. No cell phone, either. It was a great, relaxing, slow pace of life. I will certainly be back next summer if not sooner. I now know why this was on my bucket list. Anybody ready for a great adventure: join our group!