Mission to Heal
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run through two lines of soldiers, like a gauntlet, and they hit him with their rifles. "It was a constant rush," says Chenevert, a small man with freckles and a ponytail, of his time in Kukes. "I've never experienced anything like this. There's a feeling with relief work of being right at the center of history. There are the camps, and also all the NGOs (nongovernmental agencies) everywhere. Everywhere you go, there are people from other countries doing the same thing you are. They're all good people. You feel you're seeing world events. You see refugees. The more you know them, the more you see them as your peers."
On the day before Chan and Mortensen fly home to Los Angeles, they visit a castle in the picturesque town of Kruje with Ekrem and Agron. They also treat nearly 100 refugees in a psychiatric hospital, among them a 2-week-old baby, Sheepa, whose mother had just died of a stroke. Then, in a ceremony much like those taking place among the other UCLA teams and their Kosovar and Albanian colleagues, they give Agron and Ekrem gifts. Because Ekrem lost his beloved medical library, they give him a selection of small reference books. They give Vjollja, their sweet-natured Kosovar nurse, all their clothes, tennis shoes, even their makeup, perfumes, creams and scrubs.
On the hot Saturday morning when the teams gather at IMC's office in Tirana to say their final good-byes, Chan hands Ekrem a box. Inside is her stethoscope and some other valuable medical equipment . He smiles one of his big ,warm smiles and glances away. Mortensen struggles not to cry. All around, some 30 people from America, Kosovo and Albania are hugging, laughing, crying. They have not expected to fall in love on this journey, but many of them have. "Today for me was the best part of the whole trip," says E.R. nurse Kathy O'Kelley, at a farewell dinner in Tirina the night before the team leaves for Los Angeles. O'Kelley and her UCLA teammates Sharon Williams Ignaro M.D. '96 spent their last day with their Albanian colleagues playing soccer with a group of refugee children, drawing hearts on their hands in lipstick, listening to them recite poetry.
"There are so many emotions, so many things," says Ignarro, a family-practice resident, at a farewell dinner for the team on Friday night. "We're going to be talking about this for months," says O'Kelley. "In regard to the war, I would just tell everyone not to forget about these beautiful people." Several members of the team vow to come back. "In a heartbeat," says Mortensen. "There's just so much to be done. For me, this is fate. This is an answer to my prayer."