Once or twice a year Julie Bostrom, a busy mother of two, leaves behind her children and husband, co-owner of Timberline Mountain Guides, to follow her passion.
The St. Charles Hospital emergency room nurse books unlikely destinations for her vacations. Rather than kicking it on a beach, Bostrom prefers to use her time to help others, specifically, impoverished children who are often overlooked by the rest of the world. The veteran nurse regularly travels to far-flung locales in India, the Middle East, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Honduras and China to volunteer for Operation Smile, an international organization that offers reconstructive surgery for children with facial deformities like cleft lips and cleft palates, a condition where the two sides of the face don't fuse in the womb. Such afflictions often severely limit a child's ability to make friends, go to school or even smile.
"It's not like being in the hospital," said Bostrom of the international work experience. Instead of administering medical care, Bostrom said she usually finds herself comforting the youthful patients and their families pre and post-operation. And this personal connection is what keeps her coming back.
During her most recent trip, a 10-day stint in Jordan this past December, Bostrom met an Iraqi refugee family, which had been flown in by the U.S. State Department and was seeking treatment for a child. The mother, veiled in a full burqa, appeared distant to Bostrom who could see only the woman's eyes peering through the traditional Islamic garment. While the child was in surgery, Bostrom began to talk to the mother. As the two women conversed about the war, their families and being a mom, the Bend nurse began to feel a familiar sensation.
"We're all people just muddling through life. Our kids do the same annoying things ... It's such a bonding experience," Bostrom said."That's why I do it. We were two totally foreign people to each other. The burqa, you feel like it's a wall, yet here I am holding her hand and she's giving me a hug. It's cliché to say, but I think it bridges peace."
Bostrum's efforts did not go unrecognized.
"She is one of the best volunteers I have worked with. She worked nights and was always a pleasant presence at the end of every day. She never complains and strives to energize the team so we all can achieve excellence," said Russell Papineau, the Operation Smile Program Coordinator who worked with Bostrom in Jordan.
Bostrom, along with fellow Bend nurse and friend Mitchi Soto, have volunteered for Operation Smile since 2000. During that time they've forged many such cross-cultural connections. Bostrom's previous work as a burn nurse in Salt Lake City before coming to Bend, gave her valuable experience that she was able to share on trips to Southern India, her favorite destination.
"It's a unique population," Bostrom said of the people she met while in Mumbai and the surrounding area. Sadly, burns are commonplace there. Many people attempt to take their own life by lighting themselves on fire. Burning is also a disturbingly common method of retribution employed by angry family members. Additionally, many women, wrapped in flowing saris, find themselves at risk when visiting temples that are often teaming with candles.
"They have no money, they can't get treated," Bostrom said of the people who live in the world's fourth most-populated city. Burn patients who don't receive treatment usually become deformed for life, as their skin grows taut, leaving them locked in a fixed position. And the pain is severe.
While there, Bostrom befriended a 10-year-old boy whose neck had become stuck to his shoulder and was recovering in the intensive care unit. The boy's family had no money for pain relief. Bostrom offered up herself, her time, and her love. She even offered to pay for the treatment herself.
"It's very hard, it can be so sad," Bostrom said, adding that, overcome with grief, she had to leave the ICU.
Witnessing pain is an unavoidable and even necessary aspect of the job. Few can handle the sadness, which is in large part why Bostrom is our hero.
With suffering, though, comes great joy.
"It's unbelievable. It's an amazing opportunity," said Bostrum, ever the optimist. "I do it very self-servingly."
And for the children who otherwise would have few opportunities afforded them in life, Bostrom's work may be the greatest gift they will ever receive.
"Your child will go to school now. Yes," she said, happy to be of service to her fellow man.