On a Mission

On a Mission Helping sick and impoverished people around the world is a calling for Dr. David Keen By Lee Gordon


Dr. David Keen has so many jobs that sometimes it’s hard to remember them all.

He is the primary doctor at the Wakulla Urgent Care and Diagnostic Center; medical director of NHC Home Care and a staff member at the Lake City Medical Center emergency room, as well as the emergency room at Doctors Memorial Hospital in Perry. In his spare time, he is the medical director of the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office.

"I have my system as to where I go and at what time each day of the week," he says of his busy work life. "I try not to deviate from it, as it places a stressor on my mental carrying capacity. I somehow remember what I need to know."

Keen’s passion is medicine — and his mission trips. Using his own money, he and his family started CAMEO (the Caribbean American Medical Education Organization) 20 years ago. Since then, five to six times a year, Keen and a group of doctors, nurses and volunteers travel to countries such as Jamaica, Belize and St. Vincent to provide free medical care to those in need. He pays for the trips with his own money and each person on the trip funds their own expenses. They try to do fundraisers for medications and supplies.

To make sure everyone knows how committed Keen is, he usually takes his wife on the trips. And the president of CAMEO is his own mother.

"I have been bitten by the missions bug," says the Jamaican-born Keen. "I did one trip to Haiti in 1990, and now I am hooked. It is part of my everyday life."

Keen’s most recent trip was to Jamaica, where 500 patients were seen during a four-day visit in early October. In 2010, CAMEO has plans to take five trips, including what will be its first trip to Grenada. On the front lines of every mission, Keen is ready to provide basic health care, preventive health care and even minor surgeries.

"If I had more resources (or) finances to run my office while away, doctors to take my place and medical personnel to do the work there, I would go more places per year," he says.

But how would he find the time? Not even the CEO of a global conglomerate works as many hours as Keen does. The secret to his success: Anyone can thrive in business, he says, if they give back just a little bit.

"One has to have the compassion before starting and then prioritize," he says. "They do not have to go oversees to do good works. The programs are already there — it’s ‘plug and play.’ All one has to do is just show up with a willing heart. It’s as simple as that."

Keen has met and helped thousands of children on his 60-plus trips. But one child in particular affected him like no other.

It was early in 2004 when he first met Devin Richards during a mission trip to St. Vincent.

"Devin Richards was a little fellow who sat on my lap at 5 years old and asked for a pair of Nikes," Keen remembers of the child who had walked on his knees for most of his life.

It wasn’t unusual for a young boy to want to "be like Mike." But the shoes didn’t make sense for a child with such a pronounced physical disability.

"He had no feet," Keen says. "He had congenital deformity of the feet — much more severe than clubfoot."

But Keen didn’t entertain the idea of saying "no" to the impoverished child. Instead, he went to work, called in a few favors and brought Devin back to Tallahassee.

"I had been working with Jeff Fredricks from Rehab Engineering, who is an amputee and makes legs. His response was swift — ‘Yes, I’ll make his legs,’" Keen says, referring to the prosthetic legs that would eventually help Devin walk on his own. "I then contacted Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic, which made all the arrangements (at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital), and the rest is history."

Devin underwent surgery, to prepare his legs to accept the prosthetics, performed by Dr. Donald Dewey and covered by TMH. Today, he’s living in the countryside of St. Vincent, walking on his own, living a normal life.

"It did dawn on me that we actually did something for Devin when he walked over to the water cooler and took a drink the day before he left Tallahassee," Keen says. "It felt good. I hope he uses his new lease on life to do wonderful things. We only can hope."

Devin did eventually get that pair of Nikes. And now CAMEO is in the process of helping another child with clubfeet. Keen has already met with a doctor from New York who specializes in this type of surgery. The plan is to bring the child to Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic or to Manhattan for the procedure. The logistics are presently being worked out, but Keen is on a mission to help one child at a time and give all kids a chance to get their Nikes.



Do you ever get nervous about your own health or safety when on these missions?

Not really. In Nepal I was a little concerned — I just made sure that I did not drink any unbottled water. I was also told that Christianity was illegal and hence did worry about my safety.


What is the worst experience/scene that you saw when you were on a mission?

Working in the Portland Infirmary in Jamaica was a sad encounter. The heat, the severity of their mental and physical state is deplorable. There are also those discarded by society and/or family due to a stroke or amputation or blindness who are roaming the grounds or stuck in their beds, oftentimes without sheets. There is no AC. The flies eat alongside the clients.


How do you manage to juggle everything that you do? Do you have a secret when it comes to time management skills?

Being ADHD or hypomanic, I seem to have a lot of energy — much more than the average person. I am also a workaholic and I love to be busy. I have no two days alike in any given week.


You have seen different types of health care around the world. What is your take on the current health care debate as it relates to what you’ve seen in other countries?

I was the director of the Wakulla Health Department for 11 years. Here we delivered care to a lot of people at little or no cost to them. We were subsidized, but we had the ability to deliver high-quality care in the realm of a government entity. Medicaid was my bread and butter. We saw those with no insurance, and it worked.