By Ken Sain
One trip was enough for a Chandler doctor.
Dr Andrew Villa said that when you’re exposed to the harsh conditions in other countries, it’s almost impossible not to want to do all you can to help people.
Villa recently returned from a September trip to the war-torn country. This is the fourth time he has been there. He also went to Africa and Central America, the Philippines and elsewhere.
“Once you leave, you understand,” Villa said after returning from Ukraine. “I mean, we really have nothing to be ashamed of here. We have our own problems, that’s for sure.
“But, once you go to other parts of the world and see how other people live and the things they tolerate or don’t have access to…once you do, it changes your heart. .”
Villa said many Ukrainian doctors fled the country during the Russian invasion in February. Most of those who haven’t are dealing with troops fighting to retake parts of their nation from Russia.
This leaves many Ukrainian citizens without basic health care. He and others, including his wife Renee, tried to fill that need by volunteering to see patients for two weeks.
He was there as part of a Global Care Force team. It’s a new name for an organization that was founded as COVID Care Force in 2020. With the pandemic ending, doctors who have joined forces to help fight the coronavirus are expanding their reach.
The group now wants to bring high quality medical care to underresourced communities.
Villa said many of the patients he cared for in Ukraine suffered what one would expect in a country at war.
“We’ve had diabetes, hypertension, lots of depression, PTSD, as you can imagine,” Villa said. “It’s pretty heartbreaking, the stories you see and hear. What they went through is crazy.
Villa and others started at the Belarusian border and worked their way north to south until they reached Odessa next to the Black Sea.
“We went to areas that were hit hard by war,” Villa said. “And there were other areas where life went reasonably as usual.”
Many patients he saw had not had access to medical care in the past six months. Some needed to refill their prescriptions. Many just needed mental health care to cope with the conflict.
“Depression, PTSD, they just need someone to talk to,” Villa said. “One of the doctors who came was from outside of Albany, New York – family doctor, super awesome guy – and he brought a little meditation sheet, to teach you how to meditate and how to relax, etc. And so we had it transcribed into Ukrainian and we distributed this thing and taught it hundreds of times.
Villa said he was unsure if he should bring his wife on this trip.
“I tried to leave her at the Polish border, because I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We went there with bulletproof vests and helmets, just in case.
“We never wore them because we felt reasonably safe. She’s a trained musician, a classical musician, but she’s been my pharmacist, because when you go, it’s all on deck.
Villa, who specializes in women’s health in Chandler, said they were well taken care of while working in Ukraine. They stayed in beautiful places and ate good food.
“I’ve known for years that people don’t like going to foreign countries and having an American passport,” Villa said. “It was great to have an American passport there. We’ve been through customs and they really appreciate what other countries are doing and that we’re showing them that we care. I think they really appreciate it.