“I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up,” five-year-old Paul Whitsitt told his kindergarten teacher. And he did—grow up and become a doctor. With his goal of becoming a doctor always present, Dr. Whitsitt served in the Georgia Atlanta Mission from 1975-77, graduated from BYU in 1979, applied to Medical school in 1980 at University of Western Ontario and married his wife, Lisa two weeks before school began. In the second year of medical school, they had their first child. At the end of four years, they had a second child. After a one-year internship from 1984-85, the family moved to Oshawa where Dr. Whitsitt worked in the largest clinic in Canada as a family physician. He began a pharmaceutical research and development company to develop various medications, especially vaccines. In 2004, Dr. Whitsitt developed a travel medicine clinic and certified in travel medicine in 2007.
The Whitsitt’s had four more children. Health problems forced Dr. Whitsitt to shut down his research company, but he continued to practice family and travel medicine. Dr. Whitsitt studied and received a diploma in tropical medicine from West Virginia University, by attending courses two or three weeks a year. In October 2009, he met and joined a team of infectious disease specialist, nurses, pharmacist and doctors from West Virginia University to work at a health clinic in Ocote Paulina, near San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “We held daily medical clinics for a week or we went out to very primitive villages in the mountainous areas. We helped anyone that came through the door.” Dr. Whitsitt says. By the time the team arrived at 8:00 in the mornings, they had a line-up of 50-60 people already waiting. “One young mother walked from another village, leaving at 2:30 in the morning to get to our clinic by 8:00. She carried one baby in a sling and her two other children came with her riding on a donkey. She walked 5½ hours to get help for her children,” Dr. Whitsitt recalls.
He made three to four trips with the University usually in the fall or summer. Every member of the team funded their own way. They stayed in homes of the local people. The showers consisted of a pipe sticking out of the wall—no hot water. Many places had no running water at all. “We saw a lot of respiratory diseases from cooking with wood-burning stoves. The smoke doesn’t get vented so they get smoke inhalation problems. It’s always a culture shock to sleep on a mat on the floor and see the way people live and then to come back and see the excesses.”
Dr. Whitsitt went with the MMI team to Nicaragua. “I wanted to increase my contribution to the world community by sharing the blessings and benefits I’d had—to give health care to people who didn’t have the opportunity to get it any other way. The conditions there aren’t conducive to health. Sewage runs down the ditch, they have no flush toilets. Of all that is done to help people raise their standard of health, these two things—instituting sanitation and providing vaccinations, save more lives than anything else. That’s why the Church is involved with these things—water filters, wells, and sewage disposal—because people get parasites. Even with all we did, bringing our own water and careful hygiene, we still got sick. When we set up our clinic in Nicaragua people came out of the woodwork. We saw 600 people in a week. Nicaragua is ranked one of the poorest countries in Central America,” he laments. “People live in tin shacks—in true poverty. “
“People ask me ‘What can you do in only a couple of weeks? What can I do? Well, I improved the life of at least one person. Did we leave an everlasting impact? Probably not, but for that week we helped the people we saw. We helped the one. Whatever we did, was worth it to me.”
Now that things have settled down for Dr. Whitsitt he has his sights on other service trips. “I’m having a time of stable health now, I would like to go to Africa in the malarial areas. The Lord has allowed me to remain in spite of my difficulties.” Dr. Whitsitt hopes that in three years when he and his wife apply to serve a mission, the Church will see his experience and send him on a medical mission to some place similar to the places he has been. “Service always benefits the giver more than the recipient,” Dr. Whitsitt says. “It’s similar to what happens to those serving a mission—the missionary often gets converted, too, along the way.”