ELMHURST – Pharmacist Megan Corrigan just returned from Haiti, and she’s already thinking about heading back again.
“I think in the U.S., we forget how to be grateful for services that are expected,” she said.
This was the seventh time that the Elmhurst resident has been to Latin America on a service trip to provide medical care in underserved areas. She has also been to Guatemala five times and once to Mexico.
For many of the patients, this is the only chance they have to address a health concern or just have a physical examination done.
“We try to spread the word before we’re going so people show up, and we have like 300 or 400 people in line, and we see them until we’re done,” Corrigan said.
Many of the patients are treated for preventable chronic diseases and conditions like hypertension, diabetes and malnutrition that have either gone unnoticed or untreated due to a lack of health services.
“People have never, ever seen a physician,” Corrigan said. “We’re asking these people, ‘Have you ever seen a doctor?’ and they say no and they’re like 60 years old. It’s sad, but that’s why I’m glad we’re able to go.”
The service trips can be quite complicated since an entire team of volunteers, supplies and equipment have to be transported to locations lacking in infrastructure and services. Lots of people show up to receive medical attention, so keeping things moving in an organized manner is key to a successful trip. The medical brigades are important to the people from these remote locations.
Corrigan is the Clinical Pharmacy Manager at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. She grew up in Elmhurst and her house is not far from her parents’; her brother, Dan Corrigan, is an officer of the Elmhurst Police Department.
“People have never, ever seen a physician. We’re asking these people, ‘Have you ever seen a doctor?’ and they say no and they’re like 60 years old. It’s sad, but that’s why I’m glad we’re able to go.”
She did her medical training at Rush University Medical Center and Detroit Receiving Hospital, then worked at Masonic for eight years before starting at Good Sam. It was during her residency that the opportunity to go to abroad first came up, and she decided to take a trip that would make a huge impact on the rest of her life.
“When I got more into the profession, I realized we could always serve patients not only here but across the world, and my calling to the health profession was to help people,” Corrigan said. “And although we can help a lot of people here, the need is far greater in other parts of the world.”
Now, seven trips later, she not only wants to go back again, but she hopes to eventually take Madeline and Josephine, her two daughters, when they’re older. Her husband, Mike Deardurff, joined her on his first trip last year. Even though he is not a health professional, he was right there helping with logistics and organization.
“He thought he knew what I did there,” Corrigan said. “He saw it and saw the real need, and now he can’t wait to go back.”
Corrigan and other volunteers are there thanks to organizations such as DOCARE International and Project Medishare, which are dedicated to providing healthcare in areas where it is not available. They coordinate with health practitioners and local institutions in order to make sure the brigades take place without major setbacks, and volunteers can focus on providing medical care.
“We try to do what we can, but obviously we don’t have an [operating room] with us to do crazy surgeries, but if we can’t help them, we always refer them.”
As a pharmacist, Corrigan provides medicine and instructions on how to properly administer it after a physician has examined and diagnosed a patient. The brigades are like small traveling clinics. The team is made up of volunteers from various specialties and with different expertise so the care that is provided can be as comprehensive as possible. When a patient needs care beyond what the volunteers can provide, they are referred to specialists.
“We don’t turn people away,” Corrigan said. “We try to do what we can, but obviously we don’t have an [operating room] with us to do crazy surgeries, but if we can’t help them, we always refer them.”
The trips have expanded Corrigan’s world beyond the Chicago area, and she that’s a good thing because she believes that it is important to know that the world is much bigger than just one suburb, one state or even one country.
“I encourage everybody to do something like this, to go and see what the world is really like,” Corrigan said. “I think everyone has a preconceived notion of what it is like, but until you’re there and you meet the people who live there and truly get to know the culture, you can’t imagine what it is like.”
Corrigan says that people who find out about her experience often tell her that they too wish they could give back. She’d like people to know that it is not as difficult as it sounds thanks to organizations like DOCARE International and Project Medishare, which have the structure in place to make sure volunteers are safe and patients are treated. What’s important, she said, is that people get out and start helping.
“It’s never too late to volunteer,” Corrigan said.