October 14, 2008
Nurse works across the globe
Moravia woman treats the poor through Florida missionary group
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Christine Matijas at her Cortland office on Kennedy Parkway. Matijas travels to Third World countries to aid the sick.
Cortland nurse Christine Matijas has treated malaria in Cameroon, West Africa, and various parasitic and fungal infestations in Ghana, Nicaragua, Bolivia and the Amazon through her missionary work as an Evangelical Christian.
Matijas’ spiritual faith is of utmost importance to her and she combines this with her occupation as a nurse practitioner when she makes these trips with the Construction for Worldwide Evangelism, a missionary group based in Tampa, Fla. CWE works to serve and strengthen Evangelical churches worldwide and provide medical care to the areas it visits.
Matijas, who lives in Moravia and grew up in Preble, is a nurse practitioner at the Family Practice of Cortland and with the Finger Lakes Migrant Farm Health Care Workers. She was educated at Tompkins Cortland Community College, Roberts Wesleyan College and was certified as a nurse practitioner at Community General Hospital’s nurse practitioner program. She has been involved with CWE the past three years.
In her travels, Matijas has become even more thankful for what she sees as blessings in the world.
“It deepens my faith to get out there and see how others live. I am so blessed seeing see how much the Lord has given to me and being able to give back to others,” she said.
In addition, Matijas sees the missionary work as a good way to strengthen the image of America abroad.
“It’s a great way to get out there and present a better picture of what an American is,” Matijas said.
Matijas most recently came back from Cameroon, where she visited four villages in September with a missionary team. The team consisted of about 16 volunteers of nurses, doctors and pastors: some knew each other from previous missions and some were strangers.
For Matijas, the missionary work is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I finally get the chance to do it,” she said. This is because her four children are now grown and she says her husband has been very supportive.
The bonds she forms abroad are deep, and Matijas said one of the hardest parts of leaving is knowing she may never see the people whose lives she touched ever again. She remembers a particularly poignant moment during a mission in Brazil, when a simple remedy she provided brought a man to his knees in thanks.
“I’ll never forget this man who came up to me. He was in his 50s and I’d treated him for back pain. And he got down on his knees and said a prayer for me and thanked us all for being there,” Matijas said, smiling at the memory.
The missionary work also carries with it risks. Besides the medical measures the team must take to prevent diseases such as typhoid, measles, mumps, rubella and yellow fever, there are tensions to overcome within the communities they visit.
Matijas told of a dangerous situation that arose in Ghana when the medical team could not treat everyone at the clinic before they left. There was almost a riot and the team had to get onto the bus to evacuate before the anger escalated.
In Cameroon, Matijas said the team treated more than 1,300 patients in the four villages they visited.
“You do what you can,” she said, adding that even making a small difference like providing eyeglasses, is rewarding.
“You see their faces light up if they weren’t able to read and now they can,” Matijas said, saying that Cameroon has a highly literate population despite the remote locations of the villages. Some of the villages the team visited were more than an hour outside of the capital, Yaounde, and there was a school in each village, she said.
Matijas said a typical day during the Cameroon trip would consist of patients coming into the clinic and giving their complaint with the help of a translator (Cameroon is largely French-speaking). Patients would have their blood pressure taken and be asked about any allergies they may have. Then Matijas would see them and, since nurse practitioners can dispense medications and make diagnoses, she would do that or refer them to the native doctor if the case was out of her range of care. This happened twice, one was a suspected case of malaria and another was a baby with an abscess that she and an American doctor on the team lanced and drained before treating the child with antibiotics. The baby was also referred to the native doctor at the clinic for follow up. All patients have the opportunity to speak with a pastor if they wish.
Often it is only temporary relief the team can provide, treating parasitic infestations that will only recur when the team leaves. Muscle pains and strains are common as well, since the population is largely farm laborers who engage in strenuous physical activity and weight bearing daily. In areas such as Ghana, where the tribal presence is visible, it is not uncommon to treat patients by rank, with the tribal chief being the first patient of the day.
The machines in the operating room at the local clinic are outdated and only minor surgeries such as hernia repairs and appendectomies can be done there, Matijas said. There is no anesthesiologist on staff, which makes general anesthesia risky. More serious surgeries would require hospitalization in Yaounde.
Now that Matijas is back in America, she said she is enjoying the comforts of daily hot showers and being able to drink tap-water and eat local produce with no risk of sickness.
She is considering a trip to Togo, West Africa, in February where CWE is planning to build a school.
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