With a growing humanitarian crisis in the Balkans, a team of medical volunteers from the Pacific Northwest left last week on a three-week relief mission to Albania.
The team of seven, from Oregon and Washington, traveled to the Albanian capital of Tirana to care for refugees who had been driven from their homes in Kosovo.
Led by Travis Cavens, M.D., a retired pediatrician from Longview, Wash., the volunteers are with Northwest Medical Teams International, a 20-year-old, not-for-profit disaster response agency based in Portland, Ore.
"We're just trying to save one life at a time," said Matt Baxter, a spokesman for the group. "Our motto is, 'We help them today so they may have tomorrow.' "
Officials from Northwest Medical Teams have been working in Albania for 15 months, training local community leaders in disaster preparedness.
The Northwest Medical team that left last week is part of a growing international relief effort in the Balkans to help the tens of thousands of people displaced by Serbian forces as NATO continues its attack on Yugoslavia.
Besides Cavens, 64, the volunteers include a psychology professor, two nurses, a nurse anesthetist and an emergency medical technician.
Cavens' wife, Phyllis, also a pediatrician, said her husband has been on other relief missions and didn't think twice about volunteering to help the refugees. "They need care, and we have the ability to give them care," she said. The team brought more than $40,000 worth of medicine and supplies to treat the refugees for assorted ailments, from upper-respiratory infections to dehydration.
Also on the team is John Fazio, M.D., a professor of developmental psychology at Warner Pacific College in Portland, who will help the refugees deal with psychological trauma.
"The long-term effect of having to live through something like this is going to be a serious issue," Baxter said.
Three of the team's volunteers also went to Honduras last year to help victims of Hurricane Mitch. They are Mark Bloomfield, a nurse at 233-bed Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Bellevue, Wash.; Tom Ardavany, an emergency room nurse at 334-bed Harborview Medical Center, Seattle; and Michael Kremcau, an emergency medical technician from Portland.
Kremcau's desire to help those in need is no surprise to Mariah Taylor, a nurse practitioner who works with him at a Portland community health clinic.
"It's an extension of what he's already doing here," Taylor said.
The clinic, where Kremcau works as a Spanish translator, cares for some of Portland's poorest residents and many immigrants. Taylor said Kremcau is planning to enter medical school in the fall.
"(He) will bring a very, very rich background to medicine," Taylor said.
Sending this team and two others that will leave later this month will cost the organization about $150,000, Baxter said. He said the group also is working to deliver $5 million in donated or purchased medical supplies to Albania.
Northwest Medical Teams, which is supported primarily by private donations, has sent more than 500 volunteer medical teams around the world since it was founded in 1979, Baxter said.
Besides its work in disaster relief, the group works on community development projects, such as teaching better farming techniques to residents of Mexico and Honduras. The group also has provided other medical care, such as plastic surgery, to people in Mexico, Pakistan and Romania.