BATH TWP.: Usually when the chief of police recognizes one of his officers, it’s for a good arrest or a thorough investigation.
For Chief Mike McNeely, what Bath Officer Dan Reilly accomplished during a recent “vacation” was not normal police business but nonetheless deserved recognition.
Reilly, 28, took time off to accompany his dad, Dr. T.J. Reilly, on a medical mission trip to Peru. He returned home not only with lessons learned, he said, but also with reinforcement about what he thinks is important in life.
“It was a humbling experience,” Reilly said. “It puts things into perspective and makes you appreciate what you have.”
Why did Reilly go from patrolling the streets of Bath to spending vacation time with his dad on a medical mission? His father and brother made him do it.
“They both went and said it was a great experience, so I thought, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ ” Reilly said.
His dad had a slightly different take.
“I’d like all my kids to experience what other parts of the world are like,” T.J. Reilly explained. “There is plenty of poverty in the Akron area, but by going out of the country, they get to see that it’s a big world but a small world and that a smile is the same in every country.”
In November, Dan and T.J. joined Bath residents Mary Kay and Dr. John Jeanmaire, who has served as the medical director on several of these trips, and some 40 other medical professionals — doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists, pharmacists — and willing volunteers from all over the United States and Canada. All were part of a Christian-based, nondenominational Medical Ministry International mission trip to two sites in Peru.
Their first three-day stop was the city of Cusco, located in the Andes Mountains and known as the historic capitol of the Inca Empire. Then it was on to a smaller rural village about 90 minutes away for the final two days of the trip.
Both sites were set up with “a triage area where people would register, and then sections of the buildings were set aside for the doctors, the dentists or the pharmacists to see patients,” Dan Reilly said.
In those five days, more than 1,000 men, women and children were treated for ulcers and gastrointestinal problems, joint and back issues, parasites, dental decay, eye problems, cataracts and venereal disease.
“We would see hundreds of people lining up every day, hoping to get in,” T.J. Reilly said. “And while we couldn’t see all of them — and that was hard — we knew we were affecting their lives.”
With limited medical expertise, Dan was one of the five people relied upon as “runners.”
“We were the gophers for the medical staff,” he said. “I would take the paperwork to an area or accompany patients to see the doctor or the dentist.”
In one case, when a man rushed in with his son bleeding from a badly cut hand, Dan was able to take them directly to his father. A hand surgeon, he was “able to fix him right up.”
“For a lot of the locals, hygiene was not great; their teeth were bad, and the domestic violence issues were evident,” Dan Reilly said. “It was pretty humbling to see that.”
But all in all, he found the people happy and grateful.
“They don’t have what we have, but it doesn’t take much to make them happy.”
According to Reilly, the conditions for the medical team were not ideal, but they weren’t primitive either, unless you consider a chicken strutting through an examining room or the necessity of skirting a family of pigs while going to another section of the make-shift clinic. There were showers, although not hot and with minimal water pressure; there was a language barrier, but translators were available.
And even without words, universal hand gestures worked.
“I used lots of thumbs up,” he said.
Reilly was struck by the simplicity of things in Peru.
“They just live a simpler life,” he said. “But even though we are so different, we are not that different. It’s a small world.”
There were many memories Dan Reilly brought home, but he especially liked watching the doctors interact with the patients.
In particular, he remembered a lady his father saw who couldn’t walk because of bursitis. Then she received a cortisone shot.
“My dad gave her some steroids, and she stood up and was able to walk. I remember watching the two of them — my dad and this lady — doing a ballroom-type dance around the room.”
Among his other memories was “fireman carrying” a paralyzed man up a flight of stairs to see the dentist, throwing a ball to some little kids, playing soccer in an alley with some local young people or, when the medical mission was done, the long bus ride up the winding side of a mountain to see Machu Picchu with his dad.
Reilly feels the same way about what makes his job as a police office in Bath special to him.
“It’s certainly easy to remember the pursuits and the big arrests, but it’s when you did something that influenced somebody in a good way that really makes a difference,” he said. “It could be something as simple as helping someone on the interstate with a flat tire or responding to an alarm drop and calming them when they’re frightened.
“You go and do your job. It’s not a big thing for you, but it meant a lot to them. It’s about being human, I guess,” Reilly said.
“I believe the mission trip for Dan was his desire to serve those in need,” said McNeely, his boss. “This is the same value he displays while performing his duties as a Bath police officer. Recognizing there are people in this world who for whatever reason are less fortunate creates a broader perspective for Officer Reilly and all of us when handling the daily calls for service from our community.”
Are there lessons learned from this trip that Dan Reilly finds especially relevant as we head into the holiday season?
“Maybe not lessons, but something that reinforces what it’s all about,” he said, thoughtfully. “I’m not bashing Black Friday or anything, but we are all very materialistic and caught up in our own agendas, and we forget what it is all about.
“It’s about reaching out to people and influencing them in a good way, making somebody’s day a little better,” he said. “You don’t have to go across the world or to another country to do it; you don’t have to go far. You don’t have to be a hand surgeon or a medical professional or a cop.
“We are all public servants, and that’s what Christmas is all about ... what life is all about.”