Words of Wisdom With Juan M. Montero of Montero Medical Missions
“Growing up in a tiny barrio which eventually became a town, I witnessed my mother helping our town folks, especially with their healthcare needs. We had mercurochrome, tincture of iodine and sulfanilamide in our medicine cabinet. Therefore, after becoming a physician, that DNA from my mother of helping our fellow man became a mantra throughout my career. There is no substitute for the satisfaction I get from helping the poorest of the poor migrant workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia through a mobile clinic project; or serving the uninsured population of our city through a free clinic I started in 1992; or witnessing the life-changing results of the work being done through Montero Medical Missions, which recruits expatriate physicians and allied health professionals. The domestic MMM Health Fair for Veterans facilitates access for our military veterans — to whom we owe much for protecting our freedoms — to private sector healthcare.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Juan M Montero II, MD FACS of Montero Medical Missions. Juan lists his three greatest accomplishments in life as: I. Having been married for over 48 years blessed with four accomplished sons — two physicians, a lawyer and a chef restaurateur — with 11 beautiful and handsome grandchildren. II. Having coached his sons in youth basketball and baseball from 1977–1990 at the height of his surgical practice, for which he was never sued for malpractice. III. Having written his autobiography, “Halfway Through,” at age 35, which was published five years later, in 1982, by University of Indiana Press; a copy is in the Library of Congress.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born in the Philippines during World War II while my family was feverishly hiding from the Japanese invaders in a very remote region on the island of Mindanao. I was very lucky to survive. At age six, I was told during family dinners that I would be the Dr. in the family. In spite of numerous hurdles, I became one. I came to America in 1966, trained in general and thoracic surgery, finishing in 1972. One of my incredible breaks in life came when my mentor, the late Dr. William S Hotchkiss, a well-respected attending thoracic surgeon, asked me to practice with him. He was president of the American Medical Association from 1987–1988. I became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1977 and was an inaugural co-recipient of the coveted ACS Surgical Volunteerism Award in 2003. I had been on medical/surgical international missions since 1981 and founded Montero Medical Missions (MMM) in 2011. MMM is one of a few international humanitarian organizations headquartered in the U.S. with an ongoing domestic project. Called Health Fair for Veterans, it facilitates access to private-sector healthcare. MMM was conceived and developed as a charity that would combine the work of a medical missioner and a Peace Corps volunteer.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
On April 20, 2018, I emailed my friend U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Sung Kim to tell him that Montero Medical Missions stands ready to participate in any healthcare assistance, similar to a Marshall Plan for North Korea, if and when the Korean War officially ends. Currently, I am having communications and meetings with Korean-American friends and leaders. Come November, our team will head back to the Philippines to finish our new prosthesis laboratory project in Mindanao and work on the feasibility of building a motorized, inter-island floating medical clinic. We are starting plans for our MMM Eyesight 20/20, Dental Care and Prosthesis projects for Sri Lanka, Romania, Rwanda, Mongolia and Haiti.
So how exactly does your organization help people?
We develop and implement sustainable projects, often including medical procedures that are less invasive but truly life-changing in their impact. In partnership with the provincial government, our flagship project in the Philippines, Eyesight 20/20, has already helped thousands of people, especially schoolchildren. Kindly visit our MMM website to see the amputees walking immediately after being fitted with a prosthesis, plus post-operative photos of cataract patients.
Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?
Among the many I have helped in my 35 years of private practice in general and non-cardiac thoracic surgery and during medical/surgical missions, one case stood out. While enjoying the evening’s festivities of a farewell party during our medical mission in Mindanao, Philippines, I was frantically notified that one of our patients, who was admitted earlier that day for peritonsillar abscess and given IV antibiotics, had become bluish and was gasping for breath. I Immediately called my in-country colleague surgeon and anesthesiologist to bring the patient to the operating room. We intubated the patient sitting up and carefully did the life-saving incision and drainage, which allowed the patient to breathe easily following recovery from general anesthesia.
This is obviously not easy work. What drives you?
Growing up in a tiny barrio which eventually became a town, I witnessed my mother helping our town folks, especially with their healthcare needs. We had mercurochrome, tincture of iodine and sulfanilamide in our medicine cabinet. Therefore, after becoming a physician, that DNA from my mother of helping our fellow man became a mantra throughout my career. There is no substitute for the satisfaction I get from helping the poorest of the poor migrant workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia through a mobile clinic project; or serving the uninsured population of our city through a free clinic I started in 1992; or witnessing the life-changing results of the work being done through Montero Medical Missions, which recruits expatriate physicians and allied health professionals. The domestic MMM Health Fair for Veterans facilitates access for our military veterans — to whom we owe much for protecting our freedoms — to private sector healthcare.
Are there 3 things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
A. Healthcare safety nets, such as free clinics, should get more funding from the government. Legislatures should act as soon as possible.
B. The wealthy charitable organizations and foundations should actively search for fledgling, minimally funded ones with lots of potential, such as Montero Medical Missions, to promote Uncle Sam’s influence worldwide and help financially.
C. The VA system and its medical center should rise to the challenge ASAP to help all deserving veterans facilitate their healthcare needs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are?
Yes, that milestone came on January 24, 1970, when I married my American wife, who was introduced to me through a blind date by a friendly housekeeper at the hospital where I trained, and where Mary Ann Goodsell was there as a student to become a radiologic technologist. She has stuck by me these last 48 years through thick and thin, raising our four sons practically by herself because of my very busy schedule. Now we are blessed with four accomplished sons, their lovely wives, and 11 wonderful grandchildren.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
This may not be a satisfactory answer but it’s the honest truth: I could not enumerate “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” Montero Medical Missions. I thought all along that my experience of volunteerism in the healthcare field — which ranges from a rural setting of helping migrant workers through a mobile clinic project in the Eastern Shore of Virginia to the establishment of the Chesapeake Care Free Clinic to help the uninsured in our city to my international medical/surgical mission work — prepared me well for any challenge. Therefore, no regrets, no second guessing, in-spite of no full-time employees yet. My feeling has always been that with all things equal, if others can do it so can I, and even better.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
The Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB), or especially “World Class Golfer” Jason Day, to share my unbelievable luck of four holes-in-one and winning a Bronco II SUV on my first one. Being a sports fanatic, I would love to talk about basketball or baseball with the Commissioners, having coached my four sons in youth basketball and baseball from 1977–1990. Healthcare and sports should be Uncle Sam’s best exports as equalizers to win friends and influence people worldwide.
Originally published at medium.com