LUCOM hosts third Helping Hands Gala with guest Darryl Strawberry, proceeds support medical outreach
Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) hosted its annual Helping Hands Gala this past Saturday, May 5. The event was organized and hosted by the Office of Clinical Collaboration and Education (OCCE), formerly Medical Outreach and International Medicine, to support their efforts in domestic and international medical outreach. The evening was highlighted by keynote speaker, Darryl Strawberry, former professional Baseball player, Christian author, and minister. It was held inside the Montview Student Union, Alumni Ballroom, on the campus of Liberty University.
“Our office [OCCE] is supported by donors, partners, and prayer warriors and the Helping Hands Gala is a thank-you to them. During the event, we reflect on the incredible work of LUCOM student-doctors and faculty, the relationships we have built along the way as well as share the future ahead,” said James Cook, director of OCCE. “Ultimately, it is a praise and affirmation of God’s blessings upon our college and the work of our students.”
The annual gala welcomed friends from all over Lynchburg along with Liberty schools such as the School of Law and the School of Nursing as well as the Helms School of Government.
Beginning the event, Cook gave a recap of the past year. “We now have fourth-year clinical rotation sites in Africa, Central America, and South America. Our students are able to travel to over 45 hospitals around the world and we have begun working with host countries for faculty and student exchange programs that will focus on collaborative medical education.”
“This is why our office exists: to provide LUCOM student-doctors with opportunities to serve the underserved locally and around the world,” said Cook.
The gala also featured a testimony from student-doctor Victoria Gerthe (2020), along with her husband Brian; both traveled together during the last two outreach trips to Guatemala. “When I was applying to medical schools Liberty caught my eye specifically for their heart for medical missions because I felt like that was what the Lord was calling me into,” said Victoria.
The first trip for Victoria and Brian was summer 2017 with Brian originally going to help with a water filtration unit. Unfortunately, those plans for the trip didn’t work out. However, for Victoria’s husband, he developed a trusted handyman reputation assisting in the pharmacy area during community clinics; little did he know, the story of his life was about to change.
It was the third day of clinics, when Rosa, a 56-year old woman, entered with a chief compliant of knee pain. The LUCOM student-doctors working with her quickly noticed something unusual about her left arm. In talking with her, through a translator, they learned she broke her elbow six years previous. After her surgery to repair the bone, it became infected and the surgeons had to remove two-inches of her humerus. According to Victoria, it is a miracle that she still has full sensory and motor function of her wrist and hand.
“One of our physicians, Dr. Charles Joseph, called my husband in to try and see if he could make a brace for her. And in 24-hours with only PVC, a broken hacksaw blade, a knife, a pop rivet gun and a backpack strap, Brian was able to fashion a brace for her so that she could actually use both her hands,” said Victoria.
Fast-forward a year later on the 2018 spring trip, both Victoria and Brian return to Guatemala and are able to reconnect with Rosa.
“When we saw Rosa again, she told us that the brace made a significant difference in her ability to do tasks of daily living, but it broke almost three months after we left last summer. We knew we needed to do something. Here’s where the story gets crazy,” added Victoria. “Only God could have designed what happens next.”
As she explained during the gala, while on their spring trip, there was a nearby prosthetics and orthotics clinic in Zacapa. Through a prior acquaintance from James Cook, Brian was able to meet an orthotist-prosthetist and was able to work with a new friend, Luis, at the range of motion project’s facilities. Brian got first-hand experience in building Rosa a new and specially designed molded plastic orthotic brace, that with the help of Luis, will last the rest of her life.
“Brian, through this whole process, has returned to school to pursue a career in orthotics and prosthetics. We have no doubt that one day the Lord will lead him on more medical missions’ trips,” said Victoria. “The Lord, our God, and the Office of Clinical Collaboration, shine brightly in our story. The first thing Rosa told Brian after receiving her custom brace was that she was going to go make tortillas.”
“God truly used Brian and Victoria to be a blessing in Rosa’s life. This is just one of many stories unfolding through God’s blessing and a testament to what our office tries to do for LUCOM,” added Cook.
Shortly after the Gerthe’s presentation, invited keynote speaker, Darryl Strawberry took to the stage.
“It’s good to be back here in Lynchburg and always great to come back to Liberty University. This place, this city, is part of my history, all the way back to 1981. I’m just a representative for our Lord, Jesus Christ, and it’s great to be here for LUCOM,” said Strawberry. “It’s incredible to see what everyone at LUCOM is doing for the idea of Helping Hands.”
Strawberry had great success as a professional baseball player with four World Series titles (New York Mets ’86 and the New York Yankees ’96, ’98, ’99), a Hall of Fame nomination in 2004, and countless home runs, RBIs, and leading percentages since the early 80s. Though his professional career was thriving, his personal life was plagued with addictions, abuse, cancer, divorce, and even jail time.
“Looking back on my life, my history playing Baseball and the money I had, the stuff I had – it didn’t mean anything – I just had stuff. It was a broken platform. I was broken. When people look at my life back then, it’s easy to assume I had it all together. But, I was broken and it led to destructive behavior,” said Strawberry. “But then God used it – he used me for His glory. My life was empty and I tried areas to fill it. It took many years to come to a life of purpose that only Christ could provide.”
Within the last seven years, he and his wife, Tracy, founded Strawberry Ministries, a ministry that leads people to Jesus Christ, helping to restore lives and relationships with God at the helm. In 2014, he co-founded the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center in Orlando, Fla., which offers a 28-day residential program designed to help those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, as well as mental illness.
“It doesn’t matter who you are; we all have issues. But, He [Christ] uses our issues to restore us and bless others. It’s amazing when we understand Biblical principles and why we serve and what can happen when we do. The greatest gift I ever gave myself was surrendering to Christ. In Him, I found purpose,” he added.
Speaking directly to Victoria and Brian, Strawberry praised them for their work. “It’s important to always recognize and celebrate with those who are doing God’s work. What these two have done [Victoria and Brian] is nothing short of incredible.”
Referencing the efforts of the OCCE and medical outreach, Strawberry also said, “When you learn to help others and you know it’s not about you and it’s about making that difference for someone else – it is amazing. This is from the Lord Jesus, that we are able to serve others. This is the mission of Helping Hands. This is the purpose.”
“Remember we only get one chance at life. I am so proud and amazed at all the work I keep hearing and reading about related to LUCOM and its student doctors. There’s nothing greater than to bless someone else. Be bold. Be encouraged. God is still there in all your work. He will never leave you, nor forsake you. Romans 8:28 – you are called to His purpose,” said Strawberry.
Near the end of the event, the OCCE team spent a few moments to briefly recognize individuals and organizations who partnered with their office to support LUCOM medical outreach this past year. The Centra Community Benefits Committee, along with the Johnson Health Center, Samaritan's Purse, MAP International, First United Methodist Church-Martinsville, and Hôpital Baptiste Biblique, all received the Ecclesiastes 4:12 award. Inspired by scripture, the Ecclesiastes 4:12 award is annually given to those have helped advance the mission of LUCOM and shown dedication to excellence in the practice of service toward their fellow man, lifelong learning and the advancement of medical knowledge.
The Ronnie B. Martin Award, established in 2017 and given to its namesake that first year, was awarded this year to Kathleen P. Bogacz, MD, FACP, for her role as a student-doctor mentor. She was also recognized for her work within International Medicine as well as Medical Outreach always portraying discipleship, knowledge, and love.
Rebekah Naylor was awarded the Onesiphorus Award inspired by 2 Timothy 1:16. The illustration used in this passage is of a mother cooling her baby’s fever by blowing on his/her forehead. The house of Onesiphorus was that refreshment to Paul during his imprisonment. This award is given to only one recipient per year who made a tremendous impact in serving others in the spirit of fellowship and kindness; their actions refresh and revive. It is the highest award from the Office of Clinical Collaboration and Education.
With LUCOM graduating its first class later this month, Cook concluded the gala by highlighting the year ahead. “We must answer the call to increase our opportunities regionally in Virginia. We are beginning to increase where we serve abroad. LUCOM students are representing Christ and their reputation is growing. Hospitals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are now requesting us to send them our students. We are paving long-lasting relationships and influencing other countries to start medical schools with a Christian worldview.”
“Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to see profound and lifelong changes in the lives of those we serve,” Cook added.
All the proceeds raised from the third Helping Hands Gala will help provide medicine, supplies, and support for both domestic and international events.
When asked about the significance of this yearly gala, Sydney Coffey, coordinator of OCCE, said, “I don’t know of any other event on campus that highlights the specific medical component of missions/outreach. We have a very unique opportunity in the OCCE to spearhead that calling and mission for Liberty University. I think the gala (both now and in the future) can really serve as a clarion call for taking the mission and vision of LUCOM and LU to the ends of the earth through medical outreach.”
View images from the Helping Hands Gala at Facebook.com/LibertyMedicine.