Last summer, EMT/paramedic and fire captain Janet Peduzzi had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when she traveled to Muawbu, a tiny island in the Rufugi River Delta of Tanzania. As part of a mission organized through St. Luke's Episcopal Church, members of the medical team-including Janet-treated 760 people in just two days under primitive conditions. In fact, the village was so remote, it took the team 16 hours to get there from Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salaam, traveling by truck, canoe and on foot.
"The people of the Rufugi River Delta have very limited access to medical care," said Janet, who recalls villagers running along the riverbank to greet them, like something out of a movie. "For some of them, this was the first time they'd come into contact with it. I even had trouble putting in a thermometer because they'd never seen it before and they were scared."
Patients were treated for common ailments such as fevers, rashes, infections, high blood pressure and glaucoma, as well as conditions requiring surgery, such as tumors, cysts and elephantiasis. Because it was a Muslim area, the women wore head scarves which were considered taboo to remove before strangers. But Janet noticed that one lady had what appeared to be a lump beneath hers, and she broke with procedure by asking the woman to remove the scarf. Sure enough, there was a tumor which would have continued to grow if it had not been surgically removed by the volunteers.
One of the things that impressed Janet the most was how villagers were able to cross the language barrier. Though conversation in Swahili was decidedly limited, many of the patients stayed at the clinic for hours and hours with big smiles on their faces, even after their treatments were over and the medical volunteers were packing up to go. When they opened up again the next day, some of the same patients had returned, just to hang around companionably.
"It was kind of their way of saying thank you," said Janet. "They didn't have anything to offer, but just seeing how grateful they were was enough."
This was Janet's first mission trip, an eye-opening experience and one she hopes to repeat. Though it was hard for her to be away from her family-Janet has two small children-she plans to engage in more inspired travel one day.
"I have a very strong relationship with Jesus Christ and I always had a desire to do a mission," said Janet, who went into the medical field, in part, because of her mother's death from Multiple Sclerosis when Janet was 19. "I never felt like I was suited for it because I wasn't sure I could get Jesus' message across, especially in another language. But since this was a medical mission, that made me feel more comfortable."
By the time the group left Muawbu-leaving medical supplies and every spare article of clothing they had, right down to shoes and underwear-the whole village turned out to see them off.
"It was an incredible feeling," said Janet. "I think if people have the guts and the inspiration and the energy to do a mission, their reward will be seeing how grateful these people are and how you can make such a difference in their lives."
Hometown: Washington D.C. Came to Hilton Head: 1994 Education: bachelor's in health and fitness; master's in exercise physiology and cardiac rehabilitation Previous profession: worked in cardiac rehab at the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center for 10 years Current claim to fame: first female line officer ever for the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division Family includes: husband, Ron; son, John-Patrick, 6; and daughter, Abigail, 4 Hobbies: tennis, swimming, horses and spending time with the kids Words to live by: Live, love and laugh What we take for granted: "In Muawbu a small cut could end up being life-threatening, because they don't have any way to clean it or prevent infection-no medicine, soap or even fresh water. We're three minutes from a Walgreens."