Mission to Heal
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by a profound spirit of compassion and caring, UCLA doctors and
nurses travel half a world away to render aid to Kosovo's dispossessed.
a gray cement room that resembles a large prison cell, the artifacts
of a family's life sit in plain view on a windowsill. There, laid
out on a clean cloth, are a baby bottle, rubber nipples, a pair
of nail scissors, cups, forks, baby shampoo, toothpaste, a bottle
of Oil of Olay. That, a few clothes and a color photograph of
a handsome couple in their 20s are all that's left.
is no sink here. No toilet. The windows have bars, the flooring
is cardboard. Ten people live in this airless, high-ceilinged cell,
sleeping on metal cots jammed edge to edge. They may move to another
location tomorrow. Or they may not. But for now, and in the foreseeable
future, they are not going home. For these refugees driven from
their homeland - Kosovo - across the rugged charcoal mountains to
the north, existence has become a day-to-day affair. They have been
forced to settled here with the few meager belongings they could
save, in a grim, two-story, former veterinary clinic in the Albanian
city of Shkoder near the border with Montenegro. In a few days or
weeks, perhaps they will move on, maybe to a tent on the outskirts
of the capital, Tirana. Or maybe not.
this dreary place on a bright May morning have come Belinda Chan,
a petite 31-year-old physician with a kind smile, and Susan Mortensen
M.N. '87, an outgoing 47-year-old nurse practitioner and clinical
director of nursing, both from UCLA Medical Center. They are members
of a UCLA medical team that has joined with International Medical
Corps (IMC) - a worldwide medical relief organization - to help
provide medical care to the 700,000 Kosovar refugees in Albania.
For a month now, IMC has been sending teams twice a week to Shkoder
and 30 other destinations throughout this desperately poor land.
Chan and Mortensen, along with a dozen colleagues, are among the
first Westwood contingent to arrive. Another group will follow the
humanitarian effort was initiated by David Langness, UCLA's director
of health sciences communications, shortly after NATO's air war
against Yugoslavia began on March 24 and the horrifying tales of
ethnic cleansing by Serbian military in Kosovo began trickling in.
"I think, for me, the greatest sin is neutrality in the face
of a moral crisis, and this is a moral crisis here," says Langness.
than 90 doctors and nurses responded when Langness sent an e-mail
proposing a relief mission to Albania. After receiving a list from
the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees of the needs of the refugees,
26 medical professionals were selected and organized into two teams
of 13. Three days before the first group -Team A - departs on May
20, everyone meets in a Center for the Health Sciences lecture hall
to introduce themselves and talk about why they want to go "see
the world as a little cell," says Sheryl Ross, a home-health
nurse. "I don't see it with political borders. We only become
the person we're meant to be when we step outside our own needs.
By us going, the rest of the world will know that a small effort
makes a difference."
is something I have wanted to do for a long time," says Mortensen.
"I knew instantly that I wanted to go. I've been in Rwanda
and Zaire as a traveler, but I always tried to go to all the clinics
and hospitals I could. I kept wanting to help. It was like a miracle
that this opportunity occurred. I want to work very hard to make
a difference." Says Ashley Christiani, a resident in family
practice at Santa