Dean Hufstedler is a physical therapist who retired form Graham Regional Medical Center in 2013. After he and his wife joined Graham Bible Church in 2006, they became involved in short mission trips helping disadvantaged people in underdeveloped countries. Dean and his church members have traveled to Africa five times (four of which were mission trips) and Honduras three times.

For all of those trips, he provided physical therapy to injured people. Hufstedler has been driven by a recent urge to do more mission work, but one obstacle stood in his way.

“In order to do that I needed to retire early from the hospital. I took a job at Young County Home Health with them understanding that I would be gone for weeks at a time to do mission work,” he said.
Dean Hufstedler, physical therapist, worked with Benjamine post skin grafting. She is now able to open both arms and has slowly been working toward closing
Dean Hufstedler, physical therapist, worked with Benjamine post skin grafting. She is now able to open both arms and has slowly been working toward closing her mouth entirely. (Courtesy photo)
“It’s really been a blessing all the way around. Having been in Graham doing physical therapy for 30 years, basically everybody knows me. I don’t have any trouble at all getting patients to see.”

During his transition, Hufstedler’s niece Gretchen Bullock and her husband, Mark, started serving on the ship African Mercy. The African Mercy is a part of Mercy Ships, a global charity that operates a fleet of hospital ships in developing nations. The African Mercy is staffed with 400 crew members from 35 nations, with more than 1,600 volunteers annually who help locations around the world, 900 of which serve in Africa.

Typically, the ship will dock at a country in August and stay there through June. It leaves for maintenance during July and returns to a new country in August. Mark Bullock is the chief dental officer on the ship that he, his wife and his three kids have been on for more than a year and a half. That’s how Hufstedler heard about the opportunity.

“I studied up on it, found out they needed physical therapists and thought, ‘OK, this is something that we can do. I can offer physical therapy,’” Hufstedler said. “It was an opportunity for Marcia and I to serve together.”

The couple prepared to leave and sent letters to church members, family and friends to raise funds to make the trip. They eventually raised enough money, but Marcia fell ill, underwent surgery and was forced to stay behind and recover.

Hufstedler left the day after Thanksgiving and arrived in Pointe Noire, Congo, where he was driven to the African Mercy Ship. Once on board, Hufstedler said that he worked with pre-and post-surgical patients in orthopedics and in plastic surgery, and averaged 10-20 patients per day. The orthopedic surgery was performed mostly on children who had clubbed feet, bowed legs and various other deformities.

“It isn’t just that they have crooked legs or can’t get around good — but in that culture, physical deformity is deemed as cursed,” he said. “So these kids would be outcasts. They wouldn’t be able to go to school or be eligible when they grow up to get married and have a family, and not be able to work — they aren’t allowed into society. So it’s not that (we) just get them up and around, but we actually enable them to get back into society and be successful people.”

He said that the parents of these children are overwhelmed with joy once their child can walk normally again. It’s another reason Hufstedler does this work.

Read the entire story in this weekend's Graham Leader.