By guest blogger Mark A. Moyad, MD, MPH
"We cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them... All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent." --Excerpt from the December 11, 1964, Nobel Prize acceptance speech of then 35-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A good physician-surgeon friend of mine, Henri P. Lanctin, MD, is the vice president of Project Haiti, and he travels to Haiti every three months to perform surgery on children and adults at no charge, as well as to teach Haitian healthcare professionals the latest lifesaving medical techniques. Project Haiti has been around since 1982 and its administrative costs are less than 1 percent because its workers volunteer their time and pay out of their own pockets to help others. Their selflessness blows me away.
Recently, Dr. Lanctin was in Pignon, Haiti, and on his last day there he came upon a small boy, only 12 years old, who had just been brought into the hospital. The boy's name is Celine, and while he was cooking for his siblings using kerosene--as most Haitians do not have any electricity--an accident resulted in third-degree burns covering his entire upper body and his face.
There is an effort under way to get Celine to a hospital in the U.S. for care, and it appears that he may end up at the Shriners Children Hospital in Boston some time in the next six weeks (it takes that long to get a sick child out of the country for help). Many people have donated money to help get him and his mother to and from Haiti, and give them some financial assistance while they are in Boston. In the meantime, he needs constant medical attention, which he's getting in Haiti. He also needs supplemental protein, vitamins, and minerals to keep up his strength.
When Dr. Lanctin told us this story, my wife and I were so inspired by all of the random acts of kindness to help Celine and his family that we wanted to do our part. So I called some acquaintances in the supplements industry, and they did not hesitate when I asked for an unlimited supply of vitamins for Celine. Another amazing act of kindness.
I'm telling you this story because through this terrible tale of suffering and kindness, I have come to a realization that I want to share: Being a doctor, I travel around talking about how people can stay healthy, and which health screenings people should and should not receive based their age or their illness; however, there is one area of health screening that often gets missed or completely overlooked, and that is spiritual health. I know, you're thinking, that's what religion and church are for. But sometimes, even the most faithful of us, forget that it is our responsibility to act for others, without wanting recognition or reciprocity for our good deeds.
So, I believe we need to establish a Spiritual Health Screening Test. What is a spiritual health screening test? It's simple. You ask yourself: Am I doing things for others on a regular basis to help make the world a better place? This could mean giving blood, signing up for organ donation, volunteering your time, reading to someone, donating clothing or money, anything you can do regularly to help those in need. If you can honestly answer yes, then you are in good shape. Clinical research has now clearly shown that when we volunteer our time to help others, we can profoundly improve our own mental and physical health. In other words, selfless acts of kindness have actually been found to improve the health of the giver as well as the receiver. (OK, so maybe there's a little reciprocity after all.) If, however, when you ask yourself the screening question, the answer is no, then take two minutes to help someone in need, and call me in the morning. But seriously, find a small way to contribute to those in need. Drop some change in the Salvation Army bucket, wrap some presents and drop them off at a children's hospital or orphanage, write a letter to an active military member who is overseas, or simply call someone you know who might be lonely this time of year.
Since talking with Dr. Lanctin about his work in Haiti, my wife (who is an amazing social worker) and I have decided to accompany him and his team in 2012 to work at the local hospital and orphanage. And it's amazing to me that every time I am challenged by others (Thank you, Dr. Lanctin!) to think about how often I use my time to help those in need, it helps me become a better version of myself. And the ripple effect of that is that I can help change someone else's life for the better. So, I'd like to challenge you all to give yourself a Spiritual Health Screening, and see how many lives you can change.
If you would like to donate to help Celine and his family, or others like them in Haiti, go to www.projecthaiti.info or www.helpceline.com. And to find other top-rated charities go to www.charitywatch.org.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com