Rockville doctor, team returns from medical mission in Kenya
Physician established foundation to help others in son's memory
When Dr. Bill Chester's son Paul was killed in a car crash about seven years ago at age 16, the Rockville resident wanted to find a way to keep his son's memory alive.
That year, he helped establish the nonprofit Paul Chester Children's Hope Foundation, which provides medical assistance in developing countries. The foundation had revenue of about $120,000 in 2009, according to IRS tax documents.
Chester and a team of medical specialists from Rockville, as well as 16 others from New York, Ohio, California, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, recently returned from an 11-day mission to Kenya.
Before the foundation, Chester, a 52-year-old anesthesiologist at First Colonies Anesthesia Associates, had gone on other medical missions sponsored by groups such as Operation Smile, Children of the Andes and the Pan American Medical Society.
He said patients have been treated for a wide range of ailments. One of the strangest: A man had been bitten and thrown around by a hippopotamus, which caused a dislocated hip.
"It's almost a life-changing experience," he said. "People think in the [U.S.] there are inadequacies in the health care system, but they have no idea what a health care system in a Third World country is like."
Dr. Alberto Martinez, an ophthalmologist at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and a member of the team, said vision problems such as glaucoma are the most common health issues. During his mission, he operated on both eyes of a 9-month-old infant with glaucoma.
"Unless I did the surgery, the baby would go blind," he said.
Chester said his foundation usually makes two mission trips per year. Doctors operate on 100 to 150 patients on average.
"The doctors and nurses and technicians [in Kenya] are incredibly motivated but they just don't have the capability or supply," he said. "It's ... moving how much people can do with so little."
Dr. Carol Plotsky, a Rockville pediatrician, said she has treated children who cannot walk because of congenital deformities and others with neurological disorders. Most never have been treated by a doctor before.
"We certainly get more out of it than we give," Plotsky said. "It makes you understand better what you're doing and why you're doing it. It makes you appreciate what you have here ... it rejuvenates you in a way."
Chester said the medical professionals who accompany him devote a great deal of their own time, money and resources.
"It's been a ... moving and humbling experience to have them supporting me and doing something for my son," he said.
Before his death, Chester said, Paul was preparing to go with him on a mission and was considering a similar career.
Chester described his 6-foot, 7-inch son as a gentle giant with an old-soul personality.
"He was a caring individual with huge potential," he said. "The least I can do is keep his name out there."