Health Care Heroes

El Salvador is green and lush, with beautiful white herons nesting in the trees and volcanoes with lakes that form inside the craters. It is also a country of abject poverty, where people with medical ailments wait for months or years to get treated.

"People living in the mountains do not have telephones, but some how word got out that we were coming," said Dr. Dan Jacob of the New Orleans Medical Mission Services. "A petite girl of 10 had brought her brother, who had a tumor in his neck, to see me. The boy had cerebral palsy and was unable to walk. His sister carried him down the mountains on her back, which was a two-day trek from her village to our mission site."

The boy is one of several thousand patients Jacob and his team of more than 400 volunteers have treated. To date, New Orleans Medical Mission Services has been on 12 missions, performed 862 surgeries, performed 12,615 eye exams and dispensed 17,057 pairs of eyeglasses, Jacob said.The group maintains a 9,000-squarefootwarehouse for medical supplies and equipment that is sent all over the world.

Jacob began the New Orleans Medical Mission Services in 2001 after returning from a "frustrating" trip to Mexico.

"A longtime friend and patient, Fred Mikill, came in and we started discussing my medical mission experiences," he said. "Fred had recently retired from a large company that did business in Latin America and suggested that we start our own organization."

Jacob routinely performs facial reconstructions on accident victims whose faces are grossly malformed."Manufacturers in the U.S. donate plates of varying sizes, and we have just the right medical hardware for the cases that present themselves, with none to spare," he said. "It is so astounding that I can only attribute this to divine providence. "Jacob grew up in Cape Girardeau, Mo.,and went to medical school at Tulane University.

"My father, who died in an ambulance accident when I was quite young, was a doctor," he said. "I guess I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

— Lisa Bacques