by Merry Thomas, Bonanza Staff Writer

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February 11, 2003
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Adventurous locals take medical care to Mexico

Incline Village businessman Robert Lober believes almost anyone would benefit from volunteering for the High Sierra chapter of Flying Doctors, or Los Medicos Voladores.

"It's a great lesson," he said. Lober said his eyes have been opened by the experience. He said the trips to Mexico have broadened his perspective about the definition of a good lifestyle.

Typically, a group will leave early on a Thursday morning and travel for six or seven hours, stopping once en route. They set up or visit clinics Thursday night, some of which are in homes or local buildings. Electrical equipment is powered by a portable generator, and they take a lot of duct tape with them.

The following day they work a full 12 hours, and on Saturday they work for about six hours before packing up.

Saturday night and part of Sunday are set aside for relaxing after the hectic schedule, Lober said. Typically, they will whale watch in March, dine on a beach, and rent fishing boats.

"We've learned it's important to have fun at the end of the trip," Lober said. "Volunteers come back more often."

"We're building comunidad," he said.

For Lober, it all began about four years ago, when a member of Flying Doctors whose airplane is housed in an adjacent hangar at the Truckee Tahoe Airport told him about his experiences volunteering for the group. At the time, there was no local chapter; local volunteers had to attend meetings in Auburn.

Two years ago, he and others started the High Sierra chapter, which alternates meetings between Reno and Truckee. It's a regional group that brings together physicians, pilots, dentists, optometrists, medical assistants and translators to bring care and supplies to underserved populations in Mexico.

"It's difficult to find medical professionals who can find the time for a four-day trip," he said. Yet those who do make the time, return again and again.

"It takes people who have a sense of adventure and a desire to give back," he said. The $350 to $400 per trip is tax deductible, and if a volunteer cannot afford to pay, the group's angel fund can help out.

The pilots and medical physicians in the High Sierra chapter of LMV visit nine villages in North Baja and in Sonora, he said.

"Don't misunderstand -- there is health care down there, but they have to be associated with one of the government programs to get it," Lober said. "Their inoculation program is great, for instance. In Baja, they have less AIDS and hepatitis than most United States regions,"

But those who are not enrolled in a government-sponsored program fall through the cracks.

"Their needs are huge," he said. "We're just trying to fill the gaps." Mexico offers no social funds to apply toward medical care, Lober explained.

The group visits each Mexican village three or four times a year, so the type of care that makes the most sense is the kind that does not require much follow-up, such as dentistry and optometry, he said.

But the LMV volunteers also have offered women's health programs, including education about birth control and prenatal care, Lober added. Sometimes volunteer physicians identify a serious health concern, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and they can make a referral.

A child who had webbed fingers ended up receiving medical treatment at Shriner's Hospital in San Francisco, he said.

One of the LMV chapters adopted a poor fishing village that has a particularly good school system, he said.

Another project the flying group is working on is connecting local students to students in Mexico.

"We brought some high school kids down in the past for a senior project," Lober said.

Volunteers are needed for the monthly trips, and although medical professionals are especially needed right now, anyone is welcome, he said.

Pilots are recruited for all kinds of assistant work once they land the airplanes, for instance.

For more information about the High Sierra Flying Doctors group, attend a meeting the first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. March's meeting will be at the Truckee Airport, and the following month, the meeting will be held in Reno at the Sierra Air Center, 485 Rock Blvd. Meetings about impending trips are scheduled for the second Thursday of the month.

The High Sierra branch is one of three local chapters. It joins the Gold Country branch in Auburn and the South Bay branch in San Jose. For more information about the organization, visit www.flyingdocs.org.

To get in touch with Lober, phone Lober Enterprises at (775) 831-7908.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 12, 2003 12:00AM Published Feb 11, 2003 09:03PM Copyright 2003 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.