Faith In Practice team leader and board member, Dr. Mark Woolf was featured in the Project Access Tarrant County eNewsletter.
PATC e-newsletter Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Mark W. Woolf, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon & PATC Physician Volunteer
Arlington Orthopedic Associates, P.A.
Dr. Mark Woolf works out in his original hometown of Arlington at Arlington Orthopedics Associates. I was told that he is a humble and kind man but was surprised by the genuineness of his humbleness and kindness when he tells me that he is honored that we want to feature him this month. I had already informed him that I wanted to interview him for the monthly physician spotlight to discuss his participation in Project Access and also to hear about the work he does with Faith in Practice, a Christian non-profit that "seeks to improve the physical, spiritual, and economic conditions of the poor in Guatemala" through medical mission trips. He meets me up front and walks me back to his office. Before I am even seated in his office, he begins to talk about Faith in Practice, an organization that he and his wife are very passionate about.
It all began in 1991 when Reverend Todd Collier of Houston was traveling through Guatemala. He saw the great need of the Obras Sociales Del Santo Hermano Pedro, a 500 year old Franciscan hospital and home for incapacitated and abandoned children and adults. "God tugged at his heart" and he returned next year with the first surgical team and Joe, a hardware store owner and his wife, Vera Wiatt, a dental hygienist who would later become members of the Faith in Practice board of directors. They all felt the same calling from God to be in Guatemala.
Fast forward about 15 years, and Faith in Practice has expanded immensely, providing care through their Casa de Fe, dental, surgical, women's health, and orthopedics and prosthetics programs. While on medical mission to Guatemala with a secular organization called Operation Walk, Dr. Woolf met and became friends with a Brian Parsley, MD, a fellow orthopedic surgeon down in Houston working with Faith in Practice. He was in great need of reinforcements and eventually asked Dr. Woolf and his wife to lead a surgical team that would focus on hips, knees, and orthopedic trauma. For the past five years, Dr. Woolf and his wife have lead this surgical team down to Antigua, Guatemala, three times a year. They go once in the fall where they will screen approximately 180 patients in two short days to assess who needs hip and knee surgery, then twice in the spring to complete the surgeries. When Dr. Woolf began leading the team, his volunteers consisted of people from all sorts of geographical locations around the United States. Five years into it, local interest is beginning to increase. Drs. Donald Stewart and Jay Pond, also of Arlington Orthopedics Associates, have accompanied Dr. Woolf on multiple trips. The CEO of Baylor Orthopedic and Spine Hospital of Arlington (BOSHA), Allan Beck, has been very supportive of the work they are doing and just had to see what it was all about. He went for the first time last year. "They are very gracious," says Dr. Woolf. "The Baylor Health care system has done a wonderful job of supporting us."
Today, Faith in Practice sees 26,000 patients a year; 1,200 volunteers come from all around the world in 36 mission teams. They have renovated a second hospital in Antigua and are the 3rd largest health care provider in the country. "We kind of have a nice problem in that we have plenty of volunteers but we don't have enough time in the hospitals allocated to us. So this renovation of the second hospital will help to ramp up our volume." They believe in empowering their own citizens, so 700 Guatemalans give of their lives to live out the mission of Faith in Practice, says Dr. Woolf, "by sharing and demonstrating their faith in God through selfless acts of services and caring for the needy and by living out the principle shared in Luke 28:48, 'to whom much is given, much is expected.' They are strong-willed, loving, gracious people who are very sacrificial. They make things go real well for their hospital."
Dr. Woolf's team is made of 35 to 40 members: six orthopedic surgeons; one ENT, one general surgeon; five anesthesiologists; four nurses; and scrub techs. A representative from the implant company that donates the implants accompanies the team; between screening in the fall and surgery in the spring, Drs. Parsley and Woolf visit implant and trauma reconstruction companies to see about getting donated prosthetics. The have a cook and administrative people, the part of the team Dr. Woolf's wife leads. "My wife is like the den mother to me and the team and a great asset to all of us; to me especially." They bring a spiritual leader and for the past two years, Dr. Woolf's son, who currently attends Seminary in Dallas, has served the team in this capacity.
Dr. Woolf stops for a second and points to an x-ray of a femur fracture that is hanging on a board next to his desk. "Here's a great case," he begins. "It's angulated about 70 to 80 degrees. That gentleman had that fracture for 29 years and was on crutches because it never healed. Now he can walk without them." He shows me a picture of him with Gustav and Dr. Parsley (see above picture). "Gustav always finds out when we are in town and brings a little gift."
"We have another lady that our foot and ankle doctor, Dr. Stewart, worked on. She was about 28 years old, beautiful girl, and she had walked on the side of her feet, essentially on her ankles, her entire life." Dr. Woolf shows me the before and after. In the second picture, she is standing flat on her feet for the first time in her life.
The teams are able to go in there and provide medical care for conditions that are otherwise not a big deal in America. Club feet, unhealed fractures, and easily avoidable cervical cancers are just a few conditions and needs that are being met by Faith in Practice. "It's amazing the impact it had made across the country."
Dr. Woolf gives of his time to Faith in Practice, PATC, Mission Arlington, and BOSHA's charitable program. So I naturally ask him what influenced him as a child. Was he always so charitable towards the needy? "No, no," he says shaking his head. "That's a great question. I was living the American Dream; had a nice career, a beautiful wife and a wonderful family. We had the whole deal. About 16 or 17 years ago, I came to faith in Christ. It happened because I finally figured out I wasn't going to live forever. I started struggling with the big questions of life. I had friends who pointed me in the right direction with an apologetics parachurch ministry called 'Search Ministries.' Basically, I came to faith in Christ and accepted Him as my Savior." To clarify his path into medicine, Dr. Woolf explained that he went into medicine because he thought it was respectable thing to do and a good career. He wanted to make a comfortable living and retire early to play golf every day. "But God had different plans for me. The amazing thing that happened to me is that when I came to faith in Christ, my attitude about my vocation changed dramatically. My eyes were opened and the scales came off, so to speak. I came to see that God had always had his hand on me. He got me into medicine for a whole different reason. I decided that I wanted to focus on hip and knee replacements. This was just real natural way for me to live out my faith."
Dr. Woolf joined PATC just as it was lifting off, in October of 2011. Since then, he has seen six patients and has coordinated with us to help patients who do not qualify for PATC at BOSHA. He and our other volunteer doctors at Arlington Orthopedic Associates are great assets to Project Access and we are blessed that PATC allows Dr. Woolf and others to live out their faith locally.
Picture above, from left to right: Mark Woolf, MD; Brian Parsley, MD; Gustav, Faith in Practice patient.