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Clarkston grad's on a medical mission

Medical student Joe Gorz of Clarkston, left, and Arnold Renzo, RN with Clarkston Medical Group, treat a patient in Peru. Photo provided (click for larger version)
October 12, 2011 - For Clarkston graduate Joe Gorz, education to become a doctor includes annual medical mission trips to Peru.

"It's an opportunity to get hands-on with patients and see the world – it seemed the right thing to do, to open my horizons," said Gorz, who grew up in Clarkston and graduated from Clarkston High School in 2003.

He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in human biology in 2008. He is in his third year of medical school at MSU.

Over the past three years, he helped coordinate the medical mission to Peru with 30 medical students, 10-15 physicians, translators, and over $100,000 in supplies each year, treating over 4,000 patients so far.

He joined 20 students and 10 doctors in his first year of medical school.

"My first year there, after three 10-hour days seeing patients, a little girl came in who burned her foot on a pot," he said. "I looked at her and realized I didn't have to worry about bureaucracy, how we would get paid, about getting sued, just how to help her. It was nice to be there and help people. That's why I got into medicine."

With less technology, doctors can't rely on tests and must make hands-on diagnosis, he said.

"A simple infection, something we take for granted, can grow out of control – it's eye opening," he said.

The team travels for two days to get to the town of Huamachuco, 11,000 feet up in the Andes. They tour public and private hospitals, and offer general and specialist medical services to local villagers.

"A lady with five kids never saw a doctor before," he said. "A 9-year-old kid traveled by himself to get seen by a doctor – it's incredible."

Medicine runs in the family for Gorz, the son of Lennie and Kari Gorz of Clarkston. His grandfather is Dr. James O'Neill, founder of Clarkston Medical Group, and his uncle is Dr. Tim O'Neill, CMG president. Joe Gorz wanted to be a doctor since he was little.

"That or a farmer," he said.

Growing up, he would help his grandfather on his farm in Clarkston and Clare, as well as in the CMG office.

"I could run the tractor when I was 12 – it was an old Ford," he said. "He and my grandmother were like second parents to me."

The Clarkston community has been instrumental in supporting the medical missions, he said.

Dr. Thomas Biggs and Dr. Arlin French, with whom he has been studying in Clarkston, host an annual fund raiser for the project.

St. Daniel Catholic Community, Munk Orthodontics, CMG, the Ritters and many others also donate.

"It's a community effort," Gorz said.

He plans to continue medical mission work after he establishes his own practice, maybe in his hometown.

"Clarkston is home – you can't get a better pepperoni stick than at Rudy's, or Portobello burger at the Union," he said. "It's a small, quaint town. You can still walk down the street and talk to your neighbors."

This year's Peru trip will be featured in a half-hour special on the Big Ten network, airing next year.

The next trip will be in August. Items needed for donation include suntan lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

All monetary donations are used for medicine.

"None goes to student transportation or anything like that – students pay that out of own loans," Gorz he said.

To make a tax-deductible donation, write checks payable to International Health Project (IHP), memo "2011 Peru," and mail to 4707 Saint Antoine St., Detroit, MI 48201-1427. Title envelope "Peru medical mission."

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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