Wed | Jan 17, 2018

A purposeful journey

Published:Saturday | September 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Jeff and Ellen Segar.

Simultaneously maintaining a career and a happy family life is never an easy task, but one lucky American couple appears to have discovered a way to achieve that much-sought-after equilibrium.

Every autumn, for the past few years, Iowa-based medical professionals Jeff and Ellen Segar have travelled to Jamaica through the charitable arm of Couples Resorts - the Issa Trust Foundation (ITF) - to deliver free health care services to children across the country.

Although the trip offers the Segars an opportunity to get a break from the stress of their regular jobs, the couple acknowledge that their altruistic acts in the Caribbean have also helped to strengthen their marriage.

During a medical mission in Oracabessa, St Mary, earlier this week, Jeff, who works as a doctor providing medical care for newborns, told Family and Religion: "Coming to Jamaica is great because even though my wife and I are working, this is so different from the type of work I normally do. It's special for me because we function very well as a team. We look forward to this opportunity year after year.


Ellen, who is a nurse, said: "It's like marriage therapy because we don't get to see each other and do this back home. In coming together and working as a team, we've discovered that we're very efficient and complement each other in terms of what we do with the children here, so it's a real blessing."

Through the ITF's medical missions and paediatric residency programme at the Couples Resort in St Mary, over the last six years, the charity has been able to provide health care services for more than 60,000 young people in rural areas.

During that time, Jeff, who serves as the ITF's medical director, has observed several thought-provoking developments. He explained: "One of the things we noticed a couple of years ago was the decrease in the number of children diagnosed with asthma. We think that is related in part to some of the changes that were occurring nationally in Jamaica regarding [the ban on public] cigarette smoking.

"However, one concern is the number of children we've identified that are anaemic. Anaemia is low red blood cell counts, and they are important because that's how the blood distributes oxygen through the body.

"We're not sure what the causes are, but because of the lifelong implications that can occur, particularly with anaemia during childhood, one of the things we're working very hard to figure out is how we can better understand why so many children are anaemic."

Jeff believes the condition may be caused by a lack of iron, and can be treated by consuming iron-rich foods such as callaloo. Subsequently, Ellen spends much of her time trying to raise awareness about the dangers of anaemia.

She said: "We've developed handouts and information for families, and try to reinforce education by talking to local providers about what people have access to and can afford. We try to do a lot of education, and that's probably a big part of why we keep coming back."

- O.M.