As he viewed the images of devastation immediately following the 7.8 earthquake
in Nepal, Marc Mercado realized one thing: He could make a difference.
“I knew I had to go, no matter what,” says Mercado, a respiratory
therapist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. He went online and found
a nonprofit organization that organizes medical relief missions in areas
where health care is limited, as well as in disaster areas. Just 11 days
after the quake occurred, Mercado landed in Nepal. He was the only respiratory
therapist in his group of 18 medical professionals. All of them had personally
financed their trips and brought their own necessities, such as sleeping
bags and food.
The larger group split into three smaller groups, and Mercado’s went
to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to assist at local hospitals, monasteries
and displacement camps. He helped triage patients, identifying the seriousness
of their condition and determining who needed care most urgently.
“We saw all sorts of people,” he says. “We treated infected
cuts and wounds, fractures, cholera, diarrhea and dysentery—a whole
range of conditions. People had lost their homes and were traumatized.”
On a medical mission with scarce resources and staff, participants help
in whatever ways are needed. So Mercado found himself doing tasks that
he would never have done at home, including IV placement and suturing.
“We all had crash courses,” he says.
Some of his duties were nonmedical in nature, such as crowd control and
security. Although the experience was physically grueling, Mercado found
it immensely fulfilling. He enhanced his skills and learned a great deal.
“No matter what medical skill level a person has attained, compassion
supersedes all,” Mercado adds. “Everyone should do at least
one medical mission. There is a world of things clinically or personally
that a person can learn and add to their individual talents.”
Back home, Mercado brings that compassion to his patients at Torrance Memorial.
As a member of the hospital’s Respiratory Therapy Department, he
assists patients with breathing problems and conditions relating to the
lungs. This entails a variety of duties, including training patients in
breathing techniques, administering medications, clearing patients’
airways and working with those who need to be on a ventilator. His seven
years on staff at Torrance Memorial have given him exposure to a wide
range of medical conditions.
“I’m proud of the teamwork here,” he says. “The
hospital is very supportive of its employees, and our department members
push one another to continue learning.”
In fact, Mercado is in the process of obtaining his master’s degree
in health care management. He loves direct patient interaction but says
he wants to “understand the big picture” when it comes to
Before becoming a respiratory therapist, Mercado served in the Marines.
Deployed twice during his four-year tenure, he saw combat in Iraq as a
rifleman in the infantry. His military training taught him discipline
and how to handle unpredictable and dangerous situations. “When
I was in Nepal and things were crazy, I said to myself, ‘I’ve
seen worse. At least no one’s shooting at me.’”
The Nepal trip was Mercado’s second medical mission abroad. Last
year, he participated in an international medical mission organized by
a physician. The group treated poor residents at a clinic in a remote
area in Honduras.
As was the case in Nepal, Mercado had a chance to perform tasks outside
his normal respiratory therapy duties. He already looks forward to joining
another international medical mission next year.
“I really enjoy helping people and being part of something bigger
than myself,” he says.