It was at the invitation of a "very special and very persistent lady" that six months ago, Dr. Allan Gathercoal, the founder of the Flying Doctors of America, or FDoA, made his first visit to the territory with his lovely Peruvian wife, LizMarcela.
first visit in February, this year, Dr.Gathercoal (who prefers to be called "just Allan") met with LBJ
and DOH administration, spoke to doctors, nurses and members of emergency teams.
He himself worked in emergency medicine at Loma Linda University, while his doctorate degree is in divinity (philosophy and theology) from Columbia Theological Seminary.
He promised after that first visit in February that he would bring members of his group, the "Flying Doctors of America" back with him this summer.
True to his
word, Dr. Gathercoal
arrived in the territory last week just ahead of this group of eleven doctors, nurses and technicians who hail from all parts of the United States.
They are among the more than 7,000 volunteers on the roster for Flying Doctors of America
, an organization which was founded by Gathercoal
"on a wing and a prayer with $700 in his
pocket" some twenty years ago.
The FDoA organization
, according to the website, brings together physicians, dentists, physicians' assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, and other volunteers who give medical and dental care to people in developing countries throughout the world.
All of the missions are short-term (one or two weeks) and professionally managed.
"We were the first team representing the United States on the ground in Haiti following the terrible earthquake" said Gathercoal
"We are first responders who pride ourselves in being first into difficult places where the need is most urgent."
continued, "These team members are amazing, they are extremely flexible, and they can sleep under the stars in Samoa, or bring their skills to war-torn places at a moment's notice."
They were one of the first teams responding to Thailand after the great tsunami.
"These people leave their busy practices to care for those in need" said Dr. Gathercoal
In September 2007, Aumua
first contacted Dr. Gathercoal
was on a medical mission, somewhere in the Himalayas, I believe, when I first tried to track him down, but when we finally made contact, he
was very interested in learning more about American Samoa's needs for both medicine and dentistry.
"The Flying Doctors agenda and itineraries are set years in advance, so we looked at August 2010 as a good time for them to arrive.
Because many of our doctors and government workers leave to go on vacation in the summer, the need for medical help is often greater at this time, so it fit perfectly."
In February, Dr. Gathercoal
came to see where the needs were greatest, and has worked to bring specialists here who we may not be able to see at other times.
Allan M. Gathercoal, the president and founder of Flying Doctors of America, will make you rethink your life as he tells you about his.
began the Flying Doctors "on a wing and a prayer" Gathercoal's passion and enthusiasm for his
ministry is evident.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm".
It is Gathercoal
, and his Flying Doctors of America
, who are living proof that is true.
caught up with Dr. Gathercoal
lovely Peruvian wife LizMarcela this past weekend at Ta'alolo Lodge, where they are busy meeting with doctors and directors, as well as coordinating their next several trips, including the trip to American Samoa
revealed a past riddled with irony; he
had been a soldier in Viet Nam "dedicated to destroying" - yet he
wound up here, a minister, medically trained, and a pilot, dedicated to healing.
How did this transformation take place?
stated without hesitation, "God interrupts people's lives."
was working on obtaining his
hours and certification for a pilot's license in Viet Nam, Nixon began to wind down the war.
Several flight schools were closing, and Gathercoal
found himself searching for a place to finish his
tour of duty.
left the army believing he
wanted to go into medicine.
Working at Loma Linda Emergency room while taking pre-med classes at Cal State, he
left that to go into active ministry.
Eventually, he would build a church, earn graduate degrees in Psychology and Theology, and obtain a doctorate from Columbia Theological Seminary.
In 1996 he
received the "Vision of Race Unity Award" an honor bestowed by the Baha'i community on those who fight prejudice in our world.
He has also pioneered businesses and educational programs, and taught Leadership Development at Emory University.
, "the whole kernel - the idea for the Flying Doctors - really came from the Bible.
As Christians, we are called to care for the less fortunate.
To be a Christian and be indifferent to suffering is anathema ... it is simply not possible."
That was 35 years ago, and looking back, Gathercoal
realized that at each turn, the hand of Providence was there.
FLYING TO AMERICAN SAMOA
plan their calendars years in advance.
What put American Samoa
on their calendar was the question posed to Gathercoal
, who is himself trained in emergency medicine.
In 2008 Amata
called Dr. Gathercoal
(who was on a medical mission at the time) and since then, they have kept in touch by email.
wife Liz have flown down at their own expense to see how they can help us, and they have scheduled us in for August.
"This is FDoA's introduction to the South Pacific region and we're hoping they will make this an annual medical mission," she
Gathercoal, whose medical ministry includes a roster of 4500 MDs, 1500 dentists, 1500 RNs, Physician's Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners to call upon - along with about 1500 support staff (Chiropractors, pharmacists, and medical technicians) - is considering establishing American Samoa as a Flying Doctors of America base for the South Pacific region.