Steve Stache, an operating room nurse at Monongahela Valley Hospital, was so moved by a medical mission he made to the Philippines in 2011, he plans to return there on another mission trip early next year.
Mr. Stache, 54, of Charleroi, accompanied two of the hospital's doctors to a poor area in Manila.
"The doctors told me it would be a culture shock," Mr. Stache said. "There were shanties and shacks, it was tough to see. But the people are very kind, and they don't know they are poor. It's very humbling, and it makes you grateful for what we have here in the United States."
The 23-year veteran of the operating room was recognized this month by Mon Valley Hospital during National Nurses Week. On May 9, Mr. Stache was surprised with an award for his contributions to the health and well-being of people throughout the world.
He accompanied surgeons Vasu Malepati and Chito Crudo on the trip organized by the Philippine American Medical Society of Western Pennsylvania, which has sponsored an annual medical mission to the Philippines for the past decade.
The three were there for a week and performed 160 surgeries at a local hospital.
"We did thyroid surgery, goiters, cleft palates, gallbladders and breast surgery. For three days, we did surgeries from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.," Mr. Stache said.
"Some of the people we saw in Manila have no health coverage," he said. "We saw people of all ages."
Mr. Stache has worked with the two surgeons for years and said he had always wanted to go on the mission trips with them.
Dr. Crudo -- whose mother, brother and sister live in the Philippines -- has gone eight or nine times, he said, and Dr. Malepati has made about four such trips.
Mr. Stache said the Mon Valley Hospital has been generous in donating equipment for such trips.
"The equipment in Manila is less sophisticated -- maybe what our U.S. hospitals had 10 years ago," he said, noting that Americans should appreciate the equipment we have in this country.
The Philippine government provided the medical group with all of their meals. Mr. Stache and the other medical professions pay for their travel and accommodations at a hotel. The local mayor hosted the group at a country club dinner and presented them with awards for service.
Mr. Stache said he met doctors from all over the United States and from England as well as Philippine medical school physicians. Despite the grueling schedule, he had time to see some sights, including where Gen. Douglas MacArthur stayed during World War II.
Mr. Stache plans to go on another medical mission to rural Manila in late January.
Dr. Malepati, who presented the award to Mr. Stache, said, "He is a very jovial and friendly person in the OR and a fine nurse. I know that his children have followed in his footsteps -- both his son and daughter are physicians -- and I hope that they also follow in his footsteps to participate in medical missions."
Mr. Stache grew up in Charleroi and began working with the Monessen Ambulance Service in 1978. As a paramedic, he was introduced to the hospital operating room when he did emergency intubations -- creating a surgical airway -- on ambulance patients. He went to school to become a surgical technician and then attended Allegheny County Community College to become a nurse.
Mr. Stache lives in his hometown with his wife, Cheryl, who is a social studies and psychology teacher at Monessen High School. He said he often took his children to the hospital to see where he worked, and they decided to go into the medical profession. Both are now doctors in the Philadelphia area.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com