Foating Doctors

he original plan for Floating Doctors and Dr. Ben LaBrot ’01 was a 12-month medical relief voyage, visiting more than 15 countries along the coast of Central America and throughout the Eastern Pacific. Then, the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti.

The Floating Doctors team immediately began working with other relief organizations to pull together 20,000 pounds of material needed in the devastated country. When the renovations to their sailing vessel, Southern Wind, were completed in April 2010, the team set sail directly for Haiti.

“For our first mission destination, I chose a tough location — Haiti: more than 800 miles from where we started, with huge challenges facing its people from every possible direction, a couple months after a huge disaster when people are still living in tents but many aid groups have pulled up stakes and moved on,” Dr. LaBrot wrote in the Floating Doctors blog. “If we could successfully conduct a mission here, I felt confident we could do it anywhere.”

After eight weeks anchored in Petit-Goave, Haiti, Floating Doctors had a long list of accomplishments: more than 1,200 patients treated, 250 dental patients treated, 20,000 pounds of material delivered, three additional Floating Doctors volunteers arrived, and one schoolhouse built.

The nonprofit Floating Doctors’ mission is simple — with the capabilities of their vessel and support from major sponsors such as Direct Relief International, Abbott and MEDA – the organization plans to make a lasting impact on health care in remote third-world countries.
Led by Dr. LaBrot, a doctor and marine biologist, Floating Doctors consists of a team of dedicated volunteer sailors, medical professionals and support staff, including Dr. LaBrot’s sister, Sky LaBrot. At each destination, the crew deploys their mobile tented clinic to provide free medical treatment and preventative health education to families in developing communities.
“Floating Doctors is about more than providing short-term relief; it’s about using advanced medicine and health education to create long-lasting health benefits in areas where the sea, the land, and even politics have prevented sustainable care from being delivered in the past,” Dr. LaBrot said.

Following more than two years of preparation, which included substantial renovations to its sailing vessel, months of planning among team members and volunteers, and obtaining more than $3 million in donated medical supplies, Floating Doctors embarked on a medical relief voyage in April 2010.

The team, which originally planned to travel aboard a 45-foot boat, is now using The Southern Wind, a heavily modified 76-foot sailboat. The boat, which can carry more than 20,000 pounds of medical supplies and up to 20 crew members, also houses and transports the crew, and has the capability to serve as a mobile high-tech medical facility. Among other state-of-the-art instruments and resources, the team can use online video conferencing throughout their journey to receive advice and diagnoses from specialist physicians around the world.

“I do not want to have to treat a couple hundred people and then have to go. I want to treat thousands and thousands of people — and, better than that, I want to be able to provide the people we treat with the capabilities to carry on what they’ve learned so they can continue to help others after we leave,” Dr. LaBrot said.

In addition to providing medical care and education, Dr. LaBrot and his team have gathered data to create a global health study based on the World Health Organization’s 2000 World Health Survey. The crew generated a 2010 report on the progress that has been made in improving world health, the effectiveness of current strategies and the challenges that remain.

After Haiti, the Floating Doctors team sailed to Isla Roatan, Honduras, to work with patients along that country’s coast. Using Isla Roatan as home base, the team set up mobile clinics up and down the coast, assisting patients with concerns ranging from parasites to kidney stones. In addition, they opened the Oakridge Clinic where other aid workers, such as optometrists from the Manteca Rotary Club in California, can provide assistance to the local population.

With the cholera outbreak in Haiti, Dr. LaBrot decided to take Floating Doctors back to help. After receiving an additional five pallets of medication and supplies, the team set sail in February to return to the location of their first mission.

Find out more about Floating Doctors at www.floatingdoctors.com, where the team makes blog posts, uploads photo galleries and links to maps of their current location.

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