Floating Doctors
Podcast #31 — Aired June 12, 2014

They say it takes a village, but in some cases, it just takes a boat. This week on BetterWorldians Radio we’re talking about a mission to bring healthcare to some of the most remote coastal regions in the world. Our guest this week is Dr. Benjamin LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors, a seafaring medical group that provides free healthcare for people in remote coastal regions. LaBrot will talk about his journey and the lessons he has learned along the way. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

 

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Dr. Benjamin LaBrot
Founder, Floating Doctors

Dr. Benjamin LaBrot is the founder of Floating Doctors, a seafaring medical group that provides free healthcare for people in remote coastal regions. While studying to become a doctor in Ireland, Ben made private medical missions to Thailand, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Enormous need everywhere he went, combined with the belief that the privilege of becoming a doctor comes with the responsibility for ALWAYS being on-call, have led Ben to combine his love and knowledge of the sea with his talent for medicine and service to create the Floating Doctors. Floating Doctors is an all-volunteer group of men and women from all walks of life united in their passion for the healing arts and a desire to serve.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Joining us today is Dr. Benjamin LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors. While studying to become a doctor in Ireland, Dr. LaBrot made several medical missions to Thailand, South Africa, among many other places. The enormous need everywhere he went combined with his belief that the privilege of becoming a doctor always comes with a responsibility for always being on call led Ben to combine his love and knowledge of the sea with his talent for medicine and service to create Floating Doctors. Floating Doctors is an all volunteer group with men and women from all walks of life united in their passion for the human life and a desire to serve. Benjamin, its so great to have you join us today on Better Worldians Radio. Thanks for coming aboard.

Ben Labrot
Thank you so much for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. Id like to begin our journey with you today by starting out when you were a medical student, you traveled around with a backpack, treating people in remote villages. Could you tell us a little bit about that work?

Ben Labrot
Sure. So my first experience with kind of medical mission medicine and healthcare came when I was traveling essentially just traveling to visit some of my classmates who were from Africa while I was in medical school. I was traveling in Tanzania and as a recently qualified physician, the medical kit I had with me for myself was, you know, about half of my entire backpack. I stopped in this small mountainside village in the middle of nowhere in Northern Tanzania. Like, the closest even little clinic center was about nine miles walk away and apparently never has any medical supplies. And I, you know, I stopped in this village and I ended up seeing about sixty patients in the village. I emptied the backpack of everything I had in it and when I was finished, there were still about fifty or sixty people left waiting and I got back in the vehicle and I realized in that moment that that was what I wanted to do, that I wanted to come back to that community or any of the hundreds of thousands of communities just like it anywhere people are far from services and kind of living in a more impoverished situation and I would bring a bigger backpack. That was when I started laying the plans for the medical mission program that became floating doctors. As an interesting side note, I promised that community that I would come back and that was about eight years ago and in October I got married and on our honeymoon, my wife and I actually were travelling in Tanzania and we did return to that community and I got to keep my promise. I brought a much, much bigger backpack and of course a lot more knowledge of kind of how to practice more effectively in that kind of context.

Raymond Hansell
Thats interesting. Hopefully were helping you get a bigger backpack. Tell us a little bit about how you came to work from a boat. What problems did you hope that that would solve?

Ben Labrot
Well my background before medicine was actually in marine science, commercial fishing, and then growing up in Southern California, I spent a lot of time working on the water. Really like from childhood, you know, most weekends I would be working on a fishing boat or collecting for a bio marine lab and you know, I became quite comfortable moving around in boats and it gave me some sense of their kind of mobility and their ability to get places that often cant be reached any other way. Then a strange confluence of events around the time that I started thinking of kind of creating a medical mission program happened, also pointing me more towards kind of the marine scene. The tsunami that occurred in Thailand happened and there were a number of cruising sailboats that after the tsunami passed were of course completely fine because theyd been anchored offshore and they were still able to generate clean water, provide electricity, and move about and transport refugees. So things like that kind of reminded me essentially kind of like how self-contained and how versatile a ship can be, especially if youre working in areas that, like, have only water access or have very, very poor kind of transportation infrastructure. Most of the regions in which weve worked, the communities have been reachable essentially only by water. So the concept of using a boat really came from my familiarity with the mobility and self-contained nature of boats.

Raymond Hansell
Now, you tell us a little bit about that specific boat that you and how does that get you from village to village?

Ben Labrot
Well the first boat that we received was a seventy-six foot long hundred ton ship that actually had been in serious disrepair. Like, it had not been operated for over eight or nine years. Myself and our initial group of volunteers spent about a year kind of essentially rebuilding that boat kind of from scratch and that was the ship that we used for kind of our essentially our initial three years in Haiti, Honduras, then Panama. The Southern Wind which was the name of that ship really allowed us to transport large amounts of material. We could put about 20,000 pounds of medical supplies or community development material onboard and we could support about thirteen or fourteen people kind of onboard. So our first mission which was to Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake really kind of essentially was the proving ground that showed, you know, that all of the things that we had hoped the vessel could accomplish using it as a platform to deliver healthcare were completely realized. You know, when we arrived in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, it was a pretty devastated area with very little in the way of kind of community infrastructure. And whereas kind of other groups that we encountered that were sending their people down, were putting their people up in hotels at seventy or eighty dollars per night, you know, and having to rent kind of expensive land rovers to help people around, essentially spending tens of thousands of dollars, you know, essentially couldnt really compare with the fact that we were anchored just offshore for free, kind of subsisting on kind of solar energy and our generator and the storage supplies that we had with us and able to reach different coastal areas through our small boat. The first mission, we were there about just under three months. We saw just over twenty-five hundred patients in about eight communities in the region of Haiti where we were working and that entire mission, you know, once we arrived in Haiti, cost about $5,000. So in comparison to kind of what the normal costs for running the medical or any other charitable operation, especially for that amount of time is essentially our costs were much, much less. Combined with, of course, the increased security of having all of our people essentially surrounded by quite a large moat near the ocean and not subject to power failures from the city or anything like that.

Raymond Hansell
Tell us about some of the places that you visited so far.

Ben Labrot
Well so far weve worked in South Haiti in Petit-Goâve which is Haitis fourth largest city in the center of the largest aftershock after the earthquake. After our initial visit to Haiti, we spent just under a year in Honduras working in the Bay Islands of Honduras where we actually that was actually where we encountered, so far, the greatest disparity, the greatest disparity between kind of, you know, very, very wealthy and very, very poor. When the cholera epidemic came back to Haiti, we got the opportunity to return to Haiti with about seventy-five hundred bags of IV fluids and other supplies for some of our partners there and for some of the communities in the north. Then we were invited to Panama, the eastern portion of Panama where we currently work over about a 5,000 square mile area of of jungle covered mountains, Mangrove Islands, essentially for a large indigenous population scattered over a very large area without any kind of transportation infrastructure other than water access.

Raymond Hansell
Tell us a little bit about this lack of access to medical care. What does that mean?

Ben Labrot
Well, in the US youll frequently hear people kind of complain about poor access to healthcare and groups within the US that may have very poor access or limited access to services. This is true. There are quite a few people in the US who dont have health insurance or have trouble obtaining the care that they need, but one thing that people in the US dont always recognize is that lack of access to care in the US is a very different thing than lack of access to care for much of the rest of the worlds population. Here, lack of access to care often means the nearest emergency room is a little bit further from where you live than you would prefer or that there is a complicated kind of a a complicated and burdensome amount of paperwork that has to be navigated in order to obtain treatment under public service. But what people in the US dont always recognize is there is actually somewhere that they can go, for example to an emergency room, where it is illegal for them not to provide you with some of the best care in the world. For much of the worlds population, lack of access to care means if they get sick or if they get injured, theyll either get better or they wont. You know, there is no emergency room that they can go to. There is no doctor that they can call, you know, and that is the difference between lack of access kind of in the US and lack of access suffered by a huge portion of the worlds population.

Raymond Hansell
So paint me a picture here. Youre pulling up in your boat to a village or to a little coastal town and what is the response like? I mean, youre certainly not having to make some kind of announcement. I would think the word gets out pretty quickly, does it not, and people really show up? What is that response like at the village level?

Ben Labrot
You know, we would say the coconut telegraph often does kind of reach areas in advance of where we are and we also try and take advantage of what communication infrastructure might be in use. For example in part of our current region, you know, there is no cell service, there is no phone lines or anything like that in order to communicate with most of these communities. But there is a radio station that agrees to accept our broadcast and many of the people in the communities listen to in order to try and keep abreast of any kind of government announcements or anything like that. So that would be one way in which we would try and send some advance notice that were actually coming. The first visit to a community is often very delicate. For some communities, we may have been invited or a Peace Corps worker may have pointed us at one community and helped setup some of the initial introductions. But for most first visits, there is an extreme amount of kind of nervous skepticism. In particular in the indigenous region where we work, many of their interactions since really since their first contact with any outsiders have been along the lines of hey, we really like your land, you know, and kind of some disenfranchisement. So for example, there is one community way up in the mountains of Panama. When we finally got up there, we had to take pack horses and three river crossings. Weve been there probably a dozen times since but the first visit up there, most of the people in that community had never seen, you know, a non-native Indian, a non-native indigenous, you know? They were like, oh, thats what you guys look like. And they thought that we were part of some kind of hydroelectric or mining concern that was spying to try and find a way into their land which is always something theyre concerned about. I always like to joke that then they watched my volunteers trying to setup their hammocks and they went, well, theres no engineers here. Then things went much more smoothly but there is really a lot of initial kind of distrust on the first day or the first visit unless people in that community already know about us from encountering us in other communities. You know, theyre just not used to people coming without some kind of other agenda, whether its trying to get their land or trying to kind of convert, apostatize, or trying to get political support. The concept of just coming to literally just to assist is very, very novel and quite appreciated once they actually realize that is what is happening. You always have to be quite conscious of the fact that many previous interactions have been quite negative between the groups that we work with and outside agencies.

Raymond Hansell
This has been a very positive introduction to what youre doing. This is amazing work and it is really youre taking us right on the ground. Were going to be covering a lot more in the follow-up segments both with my co-host MarySue and Greg but in the meantime were going to take a break right now. Well be back shortly to talk more with Dr. Benjamin LaBrot and MarySue and Gregory. In the meantime, Id like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts no matter how small are making a difference in the lives of other people, wed love to hear about them. Please send us an email at Radio at Better Worldians dot com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Youre listening to Better Worldians Radio. Were speaking today with Dr. Benjamin LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors. Now lets welcome back Ben and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Ben.

Ben Labrot
Hi.

MarySue Hansell
You know, being a doctor as you mentioned in those remote coastal villages is very different than being a doctor in a typical American setting. You know, I was watching some of your videos and I saw that you treat all sorts of unusual injuries and illnesses like from shark bites to monkey attacks and even vampire bat bites. Can you tell us about that?

Ben Labrot
It is true that especially in regions where, you know like sometimes its a community that may have never been visited by a doctor before and if it is a community that has very, very poor access, for example if it is an eight hour canoe paddle in good weather to a health center that may or may not have the resources or willingness to actually provide care, its not at all uncommon especially on the initial visit to encounter things that are really unusual and also to encounter things that are very advanced. You know, we often see things that are way more advanced than they would ever be allowed to get kind of in almost any other context. Those are sometimes some of the most unfortunate and some of the most dramatic cases. But Ive treated, I mean, Ive seen lightning strikes, several actually, a variety of as you said, different animal attacks. We also see quite a few unusual tropical diseases. I just received a nice thank you note from a group that we work with that provides us with prenatal vitamins and also almost as important, a worming medication. It was a note to say thanks for sending them the photo of an ultrasound image from a patient. Its an ultrasound image that shows a big fourteen inch worm in the patients gut. It is actually visible on ultrasound and some of these really unusual kinds of diseases of poverty, diseases of remoteness, and tropical conditions we encounter quite commonly. I always say to my doctors, you know, before they go out like look, common things are common. Youre going to see lower back pain. Youre going to see headaches. Youre going to see diarrheal disease. Youre going to see colds and youre also going to see quite regularly, very bizarre kind of tropical conditions or very bizarre medical conditions, you know, that you would never have access to otherwise. This makes it really difficult, you know, as the practitioner because youre operating in an environment where you cant just send the patient off to a specialist or send the patient off for a scan or for laboratories, you know, kind of as you scratch your head. You really have to make do with your clinical exam and your clinical history. I always say a rather novel approach; try talking to the patient, listening to the patient, and putting your hands on the patient to make your diagnosis which was essentially the focus of the medical training I received in Ireland.

MarySue Hansell
What is a typical day like for you folks out there?

Ben Labrot
Well a typical day right now would be in the morning I gather all of the volunteers together, gather our medical bags, hop into one of our small boats because in the region where we work now, there is a lot of very shallow water, a lot of sand bars, a lot of coral reefs, a lot of narrow mangrove channels, and we frequently use or we primarily use small, fast, open boats called pangas to transport our teams around. So wed hop in the panga. Wed travel anywhere between forty minutes to three hours, you know, to get to one of the communities. We would setup a clinic under kind of a covered communal area and begin seeing patients. Usually if we had any possible way to kind of pre-notify the community, there is always people kind of already waiting and if there is not people already waiting, then shortly after we arrive, people start showing up usually pretty quickly. When we do our clinic, its a lot like a normal doctors office. People come in, get checked in. If its a patient weve seen before, we pull their previous chart. If not, we start a new one for them. They have a basic check-in where their vitals are taken. They are then seen by a provider and then they receive kind of medication and instructions or sometimes small surgical procedures or other treatments. The really tricky part comes when a patient does need some kind of advanced care. There is a telemedicine service that we belong to that allows us to submit, you know, kind of difficult cases to this telemedicine service where about two hundred thousand doctors can comment and make suggestions. That has been very, very valuable to us in obtaining specialist advice for our patients. For our patients who actually need some kind of advanced service, you know, like a surgery or other procedure, thats when things get really tricky and thats when we begin and we try and raise money specifically for the transport or the lab fees for one particular patient and then we have to begin coordinating how were going to get this patient from a very remote community to usually somewhere like Panama City or to, you know, a large city on the Pacific Coast of Panama, essentially over a 5,000 foot tall mountain range and sometimes multiple visits. That gets very, very tricky.

MarySue Hansell
How many people do you see in one day?

Ben Labrot
A typical clinic, we might see depending on the size of the community, if it is a very small community, we might see thirty-five or forty. If it is a larger community, we could see in excess of one hundred. It really depends kind of on the size of the community and sometimes on what the health conditions are like in any given moment. Fortunately, theres not much malaria in the area where were currently working but there is Dengue Fever. There is a lot of worms, a lot of parasitic infections, and pretty much none of the communities in which we work have clean water so even though it is the twenty-first century, occasionally people in our region well, not even occasionally, more regularly than I would like will die from diarrhea. And in the twenty-first century to have people dying from diarrheal disease, you know, is an outrage. You know, it is still considered bad luck to name your children up until the age of two in our region because the infant mortality rate and child mortality rate is still too high.

MarySue Hansell
Can you share a couple of stories with our listeners about things that happened that you realized how much of a difference you and your team have made?

Ben Labrot
Theres a couple that I was thinking of in anticipation of this. Much of what we try and focus on is actually preventing problems before they start. If you prevent a problem before it happens, often you never know for sure whether it would have happened or not. You might treat someones blood pressure and they dont have a stroke but they may not have had a stroke so, you know, even if you didnt treat them, you know, you dont always know. But pretty regularly we encounter a patient and are just lucky and fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and able to provide the right resources that the patients life or their familys life is really changed forever. There is one kid that were actually treating right now. He is fourteen. He is from a very, very remote mountain community. One of our medical students about a year ago was kind of listening to his chest at our check-in and heard a really loud murmur. When we looked at this kids chest, his heart was pounding through his chest wall. Like, its really its really horrifyingly pronounced. He has a terrible heart defect from rheumatic fever which is not common in the US because when people get strep throat here in the US, they get antibiotics. In places where that doesnt happen, people can get, you know, heart valve damage from strep throat. So we got this kid down the mountain. He was in heart failure. We got him to a pediatric cardiologist and then it turned out he also had tuberculosis. So for six months, this kid who was in very severe heart failure was managed medically for his heart failure and treated for his tuberculosis. Once his tuberculosis was cleared, we managed to get him to Panama City and got him plugged into the process by which he is ultimately going to be able to receive a new heart valve. His surgery finally after a year of treating his tuberculosis, managing his heart failure, his surgery is scheduled for August 18th and it required, you know, we had to line up seven people willing to donate blood at the right time so that there would be blood available for his surgery. You know, its like BYOB for that service. He would be he would certainly be dead kind of by now if we had not kind of encountered him and patients like that, the ones who if were not there and able to help, you know, are definitely going to have died or to have had a very poor outcome like the patients with cleft lips or cleft palates that we have helped receive kind of their, you know, their repairing surgeries. Or it could be patients with bad orthopedic problems who are able to walk because their congenital hip dysplasia has been repaired. You know, patients that were bleeding out after giving birth in a very remote setting, emergency transport across many miles of water, keeping them supported and alive until we could get them to services. These are always the patients that in the midst of the common things that we encounter, these are the things that make us so happy to kind of have been at the right place at the right time to be the instrument by which somebodys life can be changed drastically.

MarySue Hansell
Do you bring dentists with you? I saw a lot of bad cases of, you know, teeth missing and rotted teeth when I was looking at the video. I was wondering what you do with that.

Ben Labrot
We have a full set of dental tools and kind of the equipment so that when there is a dentist, they are able to they are able to work essentially and do everything that they would need to do. Primarily when dentists visit, it is to do extractions. Two of the most important services that we also have the most difficulty finding are actually dental services and eye services, either optometrists to do glasses or ophthalmologists who do cataracts and other eye problems. Our next dentist is scheduled to come down at the end of June and if it is their first mission which I think it is for these guys, I wonder. Its going to be quite shocking for them one because of the condition of the teeth that they are going to encounter and also they are going to be busy. Were going to well set them up and theyll probably see, you know, several hundred, probably four or five hundred people over the week that theyre there. Theyre going to be quite busy. If there are any dentists or eye doctors listening, please come and join us.

MarySue Hansell
I was just going to say where do you get the volunteers from and how many do you get?

Ben Labrot
We normally have about fifteen to twenty volunteers on site at a time. We actually have way more demand than we currently have the ability to accommodate and to also kind of utilize on site. Were in the middle of a capital campaign actually to expand our capacity from about twenty to about eighty volunteers. At the moment, weve actually done up to now weve really done almost no, you know, kind of almost no direct recruiting. Almost all of our volunteer demand has come primarily from word of mouth or from people who kind of stumbled across us through any kind of press or radio such as this or other kind of blogs that have been written about us. So, I mean, really Im really looking forward to being able to greatly increase our capacity because we currently visit about twenty communities every two months. We can provide regular ongoing care. But there is almost five hundred communities over our region. Right now were working over a 5,000 square mile area and I have no lack of need, you know, even in the smallish area in which were working, you know, we just need to continue to develop our capacity and be able to deploy more volunteers and more resources.

MarySue Hansell
How long do they usually stay with you, the volunteers? Is that like for a tour or how does that work?

Ben Labrot
There could be sometimes often they are individual volunteers, people who just apply through our website. Thats the most common type of volunteer. There are also groups that come from some of our medical school or university partners that may come. Usually when groups come, they come for ten days to two weeks. Individuals are more likely to be able to stay longer. Weve hosted about last year we hosted about two hundred and fifty volunteers from about twelve countries. They would stay anywhere from, you know, like a week up to six months but the longer people are able to stay, usually the more rewarding their experience is and the more kind of help they actually can be. You know, after a week, at the end of the week, youre far more functional operating in that environment than you were at the beginning. After a month, youre way more functional and able to do a lot more. So the longer people can volunteer with us, generally the better because as they are with us longer and get more comfortable with the region, we are able to kind of give them more and more advanced responsibilities.

MarySue Hansell
You mentioned that you used the ultrasound machine and I did see that on the video too. Did you have other high tech equipment that you can bring with you or do bring with you?

Ben Labrot
Not as much as Id like. We have ultrasound, basic urinalysis. We do have a small machine that measures hemoglobin, the level of iron kind of in your blood. We, you know, were able to check blood glucose. But for most other laboratory exams, we really need to actually like transport the patient to, you know, distant services and arrange for those labs to be done. Most of our work is done based on the history and the physical exam which especially for our US doctors and our US volunteers is I think somewhat of a surprising experience because in the US, much of the focus of diagnoses is through laboratory or imaging or other studies. But in more resource limited settings such as public services in England, Ireland, Australia, the emphasis of diagnoses is not on the laboratory but on the clinical exam, you know, the doctor doing what doctors have done for many, many decades which is to sit and actually talk and listen to the patient and make your diagnosis based on, you know, your interaction with the patient rather than just laboratory finds. I always find it is quite nice for US doctors to get a chance to actually practice that kind of medicine and to, you know, to recognize that their clinical acumen and their ability to practice medicine kind of without some of the things that weve become used to having is actually still quite strong.

Raymond Hansell
Well were going to take another break at this point. When we come back, well be talking more with Dr. Benjamin LaBrot and my cohost Greg. In the meantime, you can learn more about Floating Doctors by going to Floating Doctors dot com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Were back now with Dr. Benjamin LaBrot and the founder of Floating Doctors.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Ben. This is Greg.

Ben Labrot
Hey, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
You know, you say that doctors have the responsibility to always be on call. Can you talk about that?

Ben Labrot
Yes. To be a doctor is actually one of the most extraordinary professions and extraordinary blessings that a person can have. I saw a study a few months ago. It was a survey of like twenty-five hundred US doctors and more than 50% of them said that they were categorically unfulfilled in their work. I was thinking about that and I thought you know, heres healthcare. Heres medicine. This is a position you know, to be a doctor, this is a position that traditionally has been well compensated, socially expected, intellectually challenging, and something in which just by doing your job, you can be the instrument by which someones life is changed forever and you can be of extraordinary service. And to have more than half the people participating in that say their categorically unfulfilled really tells me that there is something not right about the way in which it is being done. I have noticed that for various reasons, you know, when sometimes happens, people are often doctors often are very afraid to kind of stand up and go yes, I am a doctor. Yes, I can help on airplanes, other settings like that. Thats quite common. And I always feel like kind of the price of being a doctor, the price of being so fortunate to be in that kind of situation and that kind of position can really be that, you know, you need to be willing to help wherever you are. You know, medicine can happen wherever the doctor is. Thats another thing that our volunteers learn from practicing with us, that medicine doesnt have to happen within the hospital, within the clinic, that medicine can occur where the doctor is and it takes so little to kind of be willing to listen to someone for five minutes or to share a little bit of advice and provide some medical guidance. Although I know a lot of doctors really hate what they call the sidewalk consultation, I really love it because things like that are just little ways, a few minutes here and there, that during the day a physician can honor their profession by being willing to provide help when help is asked for and I really feel like thats a responsibility that all doctors should share in exchange for being fortunate enough to have this kind of job and profession.

Gregory Hansell
Let me ask you then, you know what does medicine mean to you personally?

Ben Labrot
To me personally? Well, its exciting. Its fascinating. The human body is one of the most complex and incredible machines and to be able to have any knowledge of its inner workings and how to make it better when its not working well is a wonderful experience. But beyond just the physical human body, to me being a doctor means forming connections with people that are impossible to form any other way. People will share things with their doctors that they would never tell their priest or rabbi or spiritual advisor and they will tell this to you thirty seconds after meeting you, their most intimate and potentially kind of embarrassing kind of personal details because a patient will sit down with you. They will go, okay, youre a doctor. Im going to trust you and give you and put my health in your hands. Please dont drop it. You know, our patients where we work in Haiti and Honduras and Panama, you know, many of them come from disenfranchised populations. Many of them have distrust. They come from different cultures, different socioeconomic levels. They speak different languages. Outwardly, the patients with whom we work couldnt be more separated from us but what I love our volunteers to experience and what I love about experiencing in healthcare and medicine is that through simple human kindness in the consult and in the medical context, through kindness, the connections that you can form will transcend all of those differences in a moment and youll be able to form a connection with somebody that is more intimate than almost any other kind of human connection, you know, the shared partnership, the shared partnership between the doctor and patient, you know, to work together to improve their health. And that kind of intimacy and that kind of human connection is, to me, one of my best probably my favorite part of healthcare and medicine.

Gregory Hansell
I wanted to ask you actually what is the most rewarding part of your work.

Ben Labrot
I guess the most directly rewarding is, you know, when we do get to see sometimes the result of one of our interventions or something that we have done. Like, there is one community where when we first visited it, it had never been visited by doctors and the child mortality rate was 5% which means that in the previous year, 5% of all of the kids in the community had died, mostly from pneumonia, diarrheal disease, or fever. We visited that community now about ten times. Weve taken care of some of the long standing problems there. Weve gotten some of the TB patients taken care of and in that time, there is about seven kids who if we hadnt happened to be there, Im pretty sure would be dead. Because we were there at the right place and the right time, we were able to intervene and make a significant difference and my volunteers were actually able to rescue these kids. And the child mortality rate in that community for the last year has been zero. Not one kid has died and things like that, being able to look back sometimes at our data and go wow, these incidents of pneumonia in this community has gone way down in the last year of our business. Or in this case, you know, like no children have died in this community in the last year. Those are really, really rewarding moments for me.

Gregory Hansell
You know, I know you have in addition to your volunteer kind of core, you also have a small paid staff. I think you told us on the phone when we first spoke that, you know, they make due on like $600 a month at most?

Ben Labrot
Yeah I guess my quote unquote paid staff including myself, their accommodation is covered in some shared housing. People usually will come for six months to a year and a half and the highest paid staff that we have makes $750 per month and that is very, very little. It is actually enough where we are to, you know, kind of satisfy appropriate like wants or needs; the cost of living of where we are is quite low. But the people who work for us definitely do not do it for the money and certainly neither do I. Theres not much wealth kind of in this business but there are experiences and satisfaction that no one will ever be able to take away from myself or from my staff who have managed to make all of this happen. Most of the time when we receive any kind of additional support, it immediately goes into kind of putting together another small open boat or setting up another remote outpost or financing, you know, another patients kind of surgery or heart cardiac consultation, and so on and so on.

Gregory Hansell
What are the long-term plans for Floating Doctors?

Ben Labrot
Well originally the plan was before we ever set sail the plan was to do more of what I was familiar with which is what is called brigade medicine and that was to visit many different locations kind of very infrequently or once which is a more common model for healthcare or medical mission work. Now, it is possible to make significant long-term changes even in a single visit if you plan appropriately but that is nothing compared to what you can accomplish if you have some kind of ongoing or permanent presence. So in Panama, were working right now to try and finish building the infrastructure to have a permanent healthcare system, essentially a remote rural auxiliary healthcare system to do what the Ministry of Health there is simply unable or unwilling to do. Once the operation in Panama is complete and operating, then wed like to duplicate that model in some other locations. The first the next location where wed like to duplicate the model would be in Haiti where much of our due diligence has already been done and where we would be able to deliver the permanent program there relatively quickly. After Haiti, well, there are an awful lot of countries and an awful lot of communities that are remote and far from service and who can be reached by water and that is what were going to continue trying to expand and as long as were able to keep building programs, were going to do so.

Gregory Hansell
How can people help with the mission? You know, I know hearing these videos today that with just $5, you can purchase, you know, vitamins for thirty kids for a month and that $2,500 keeps the Southern Wind afloat for a month. So tell us what people can do to help you.

Ben Labrot
There are several ways that people can help and get involved. One is simply by being willing to give up, you know, one cup of coffee from the chain coffee store every month. I always hated that phrase give til it hurts. We believe that giving should not hurt. It would be wonderful if there were a single angel donor willing to give us millions of dollars but so far our organization has always been built kind of the opposite way which is by many people each doing a little. We always like to say there is a thousand hands under our boat kind of holding us afloat. So just being willing to log on to our website and sign up to donate $5 a month seems like a little but, you know, when enough people all work together, suddenly a mountain can be moved. So that is one way to help would be to sign on to support us monthly or the single donation. The other of course is to try and come volunteer with us. People can log on to our website. We accept medical practitioners, veterinarians, medical students, healthcare students, nurses, and non-medical volunteers because we always have health education and community development projects and we have learned that there is no talent or skill that cannot be expressed in a way that is of service to others. So we definitely invite people who have the time and would like to actually get involved directly to log on to our website and under the volunteer page to apply through our website to volunteer with us. The other way is to simply spread the word. They can go onto our Facebook and like our Floating Doctors page on Facebook, share our content with their own networks or reach out to their own networks to see if there are items like medications or supplies or equipment or other funding that might be available for us to use.

Gregory Hansell
We actually had a previous guest on the show. I think it was Ann Beiler the founder of Auntie Annes Pretzels who said you know, its not give til it hurts. Some people may experience that but beyond that, you can give until it feels good. So I definitely hear what youre saying. I think thats an amazing mission that people can help to actualize. Tell us about your nonprofit partners.

Ben Labrot
Wow. We have so many. One reason were actually able to kind of conduct our mission without millions and millions of dollars is really because of our nonprofit partners. There is a group called Clean the World that specializes in providing soaps to developing regions. So for example, for about $250, we can receive an entire palate of soap from them and you can prevent an awful lot of disease with a simple bar of soap. So pretty much every single patient that comes through our clinic leaves with a bar of soap. We really hand it out. I was going to say like candy but probably even more frequently than we would hand out candy if we did. Lets see, there is a group called Blessings International Medicine and quite a lot of other groups that specialize in providing very low cost kind of medicines or medicine supplies or refurbished and repaired medical equipment that they receive from hospitals that are upgrading that theyll pass on to other nonprofits. So its really like from groups like that and from, you know, medical schools and universities that kind of have committed to yearly visits in which they combine kind of ongoing health education programs like University of California Irvine. Their medical school is coming for their second summer program in a few weeks actually and they are coming to continue an ultrasound training program that they started last year for some of the small community health workers living in our region to be able to do some basic prenatal ultrasound and cardiac ultrasound. You know, its awfully nice for us to be able to know in advance of going into labor at three o clock in the morning when it is stormy that a womans baby is upside down for example. So through both the educational institutions that we partner with as well as with some of our nonprofit partners that we utilize for supplies, were able to make our program a lot more sustainable and deliver our services for really a fraction of the cost we would be able to do without those partners.

Gregory Hansell
We have about sixty seconds left and one question I wanted to ask you that I ask every guest every week at the end of our show is you know, think ten years into the future for example. What is your vision of how the work that you are doing will change the world for the better?

Ben Labrot
Oh, looking ten years into the future? Okay. If Im going to dream big which I do sometimes have a habit of doing, if I would dream big, I would dream of essentially permanent kind of rural permanent rural health operations similar to the one were developing in Panama scattered in countries really across the world. I would love us to return to Africa where Floating Doctors was born and where, you know, like I am determined one day to return to Asia, Indonesia, essentially anywhere that the waves wash the shores of a country or of communities where services are just not available and where people when they get sick either get better or they dont. Thats where I dream of taking their program and I am going to continue working to build that program essentially for the rest of my life.

Raymond Hansell
Thats an amazing story. You know, we have the some amazing guests on our show but youve got to be one of the top. I think a lot of our listeners should know that you know, it starts with a question frequently. How can I serve? And then the answer basically unfolds from there. In this case what you found to be the answer was it takes a boat, not a village, a boat, and on that boat and that mission you went anywhere where the waves would take us to shore. What happens is you then reach people, reach people who are almost unreachable. So my commendation for an extremely interesting journey. Anything that we can do to help and anything our listeners can do to help, we certainly encourage all of them to do so. You can find out more about Floating Doctors by going to Floating Doctors dot com. Dr. LaBrot, wed like to thank you for joining us today on Better Worldians Radio.

Ben Labrot
Thank you so much for having me.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. Best wishes on your journey. As for our listeners, please join us next week on Better Worldians Radio when well be talking to Bob Buford, a venture philanthropist, a successful social entrepreneur, and the author of Drucker & Me. Thats right, Peter Drucker and me. We have an excellent lineup of guests in the coming weeks and if you know an unsung better worldian who would make a great guest on our show, you can send us an email at Radio at Better Worldians dot com. Once again, wed like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the Better Worldians community at Better Worldians dot com and until next time, as I say each week, please, be a better worldian.