Born and raised in the state of Tennessee, Dr. Elliott Tenpenny could easily choose to spend his medical career caring for ailing people in the United States.
Instead, the American emergency medicine physician awakens daily ready to respond, often at a moment’s notice, to wherever a crisis situation is unfolding globally, to offer lifesaving healthcare intervention, as well as food, water, shelter and other assistance.
“We never know when a disaster will strike or when we are needed to help in a war situation,” he said.
While on short-term mission trips to Peru in 2005 and then to Haiti in 2008—a time when many of his peers were sitting back and enjoying their college years—Tenpenny said he experienced firsthand the “work of God” and felt “called” to dedicate his life to humanitarian service.
“These trips made me open to see the needs of the world around us,” he told Humanity. “We are very much isolated, living in the United States, and have more than other people in other countries do. I got out and saw how the majority of the world lives. I saw the needs that are out there and what I am called to do.”
A Life-Changing Moment in Haiti
While still in medical school, Tenpenny said he specifically worked closely with other medical students to address the epidemic of iodine deficiency in Haiti in 2008.
He also offered free medical intervention, with Aid for Haiti, a Tennessee-based medical mission charity, following a 7.0 earthquake that impacted Haiti in 2010.
Tenpenny called his experiences in Haiti “life-changing.”
Tenpenny received his postgraduate medical doctorate from the University of Tennessee and went on to complete his residency, serving as the chief resident in emergency medicine at the Mayor Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Following his residency, Tenpenny, while married with children, decided to join a post-residency program through Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational, Christian international relief organization, to continue on the path of providing physical and spiritual aid to hurting people around the globe.
He began serving with Samaritan’s Purse overseas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo in 2012.
“I worked doing emergency surgery for a hospital there that served 100,000 people and did this for a total of two and half years,” he said. “My prayer the entire time was to save lives.”
Today, Tenpenny provides humanitarian aid as Samaritan’s Purse’s emergency medical response manager, heading up a mobile team that provides medical help internationally to people who have no other access to emergency medicine during a disaster.
World Humanitarian Day specifically is observed annually, on Aug. 19, to honor aid workers, like Tenpenny, who are assisting people affected by crises globally and those who have lost their lives or became injured in the course of their service.
Tenpenny is an aid worker who has responded to crises all around the world, specifically since working with Samaritan’s Purse.
Earthquakes, Hurricanes, War, and Disease
When an earthquake hit Ecuador in April 2016, killing 660 people and injuring 4,600 others, the doctor answered the call to go and set up an emergency field hospital to care for those in need of medical attention.
“We at Samaritan’s Purse go in faith in Jesus Christ and respond to disasters to help people during very difficult times. It really is all encompassing. We work to meet the medical needs, the needs for food, water and shelter and the spiritual needs for the people who need it most,” he said.
That same year, in October, Samaritan’s Purse and Tenpenny responded to the devastation left behind in Haiti following the destructive Category 5 Hurricane Matthew.
They worked to treat the injured and those diagnosed with cholera, a waterborne disease affecting the small intestine, and improve the water and sanitation conditions in the wake of the storm.
The next January, Tenpenny was nearly, 6,700 miles away in Mosul.
“One of the biggest responses I have been a part of began January 2017 in Iraq,” Tenpenny said. “We set up a field hospital area outside of Mosul, an area where ISIS was fighting. We received a massive number of causalities and traumas. Watching our team work there was an amazing thing to see.”
The patients, many of whom were women and children, treated in Iraq by Tenpenny and his medical unit included those hurt by gunfire, land mines, mortar rounds, car bombings, and other explosives.
“This is what we do at Samaritan’s Purse, we strive to meet the needs of people at their worst point, while in the ditches of life. We respond to the worst crisis situations. That is what we do,” Tenpenny said.
An average of seven surgeries were performed per day during the nine months Samaritan’s Purse staffed the hospital with 450 medical workers, according the organization’s statistics on the response effort in Iraq.
Tenpenny’s latest response overseas, also with Samaritan’s Purse, took place in Bangladesh in January of this year. While there, Tenpenny again worked among devastation and tragedy to provide help to more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. The stateless Rohingya people, totaled about 1 million in Burma in 2017, and have been fleeing as refugees to various countries reachable by boat since their persecution in 2015.
Tenpenny said the crowded area in which they operated was facing infection diseases, including diphtheria, a bacterial infection of the respiratory system.
“This makes breathing and swallowing very difficult, especially for children because their airways are small,” he explained. “The infection turns deadly without immediate and proper treatment.”
Tenpenny said compassion and lifesaving antibiotics were given to thousands facing diphtheria, and “the gospel of Jesus Christ” shared to the refugees.
These crises Tenpenny sees are ones he knows could benefit from more aid.
Tenpenny said medical personnel can join him in responding to outbreaks and disasters overseas.
He said people from “all walks of life” can serve as humanitarian aids with the organization, however, and they do not need to be medical professionals.
Anyone passionate about meeting the critical needs of victims of disaster, war, disease, poverty or famine can apply to join the efforts of Samaritan’s Purse. Tenpenny said individuals holding many different professions make up Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) program.
This article was originally published on Humanity.