Richard Bartlett, MD, will never forget his 51st birthday on June 11, 2015. He was in Nepal helping provide health clinics to people made homeless when a series of powerful earthquakes rocked the Asian country. Dr. Bartlett and a colleague had spent the night in a mountain village, but the next day they had a problem. As they went to leave, a landslide threatened to cut off the only road out of town.
Dr. Bartlett and his colleague had no choice. They waited until the rain of rocks and dust slowed a bit, grabbed their baggage, and ran through the avalanche.
“I didn’t look up,” he said. “I just ran as fast as I could. I needed to get to the other side [of the avalanche] before the road disappeared. Rocks were flying over our head, there was still dust, and it was kind of coming and going as far as things falling down.”
Dr. Bartlett, who specializes in family practice and emergency care, has done a lot of foreign relief work in the past nine years, most of it through World Missions Alliance, an evangelical Christian organization based in Branson West, Mo.
Usually, the work doesn’t come with drama like he saw in Nepal. Even so, it’s still edgier than his normal day job – working as medical director at a free-standing emergency department in Odessa.
For instance, in 2014, he worked in a temporary medical clinic outside Mosul, in Iraq.
This happened just as the extremist Muslim group ISIS began to score battlefield victories in Iraq and Syria while posting grisly execution videos online for public consumption.
In August 2014, ISIS overran the city of Sinjar. More than 50,000 civilians fled to the Sinjar Mountains with little food or water. Most were Yazidis, an ethnic and religious group that ISIS considered heretics. Thousands of Yazidis were killed or died of exposure over several weeks. The clinic Dr. Bartlett worked at that November was a short drive away in Dohuk, Iraq.
“We saw a lot of people who had at least post-traumatic stress disorder because they saw their loved ones slaughtered and murdered around them while they were running for their lives across the desert from Sinjar to Duhok — 70 miles — with only the clothes on their back and with ISIS chasing them,” Dr. Bartlett said.
The international team at the clinic consisted of one doctor — Dr. Bartlett — as well as three nurses and about six other people who helped with translation and other work. They saw many of the problems you’d expect in starved, war-weary people, like depression and vitamin deficiencies. However, the biggest need was to treat the normal health issues they had before their lives were upended by war: diabetes, high blood pressure, ear infections, and the like.
Dr. Bartlett’s work has taken him to 13 countries, including Guatemala, India, Lebanon, Egypt, and Ethiopia. He sees his work as a “mandate from my savior Jesus Christ to serve others in need,” and he has no doubt that he’s kept people alive who would have died without help.
“It is a hopeless situation in a lot of cases, but you do what you can do,” he said. “And for the people you do see, it’s a game-changer. That doesn’t mean you’ve solved the whole problem, but it does give others hope.”