AYER — Steven Slarksy, a former longtime selectman and pharmacy owner, recently returned from a 20-day medical mission to South America in his role as a major in the Army Reserves.
Slarsky, along with 38 other members of his Devens-based unit, traveled some 2,500 miles to the tiny Dutch-speaking Republic of Suriname. The country is located on the northeast tip of South America between French Guiana to the east and Guyana to the west.
Slarksy, 56, was attached to the 804th Medical Brigade. Joining a mix of doctors, nurses and support staff, he assisted in the operation of four temporary clinics based out of various schools across the countryside.
“There was a thoracic surgeon out of Mass General (Hospital), a dentist from Maryland and an optomologist from Virginia,” said Slarsky, who lent his pharmacy expertise. Dubbed “Operation Med Red,” these medical readiness missions are spearheaded by the Army, in cooperation with the host nation’s medical and military community. The program targets citizens living in medically under-served areas.
Located just north of the equator, Slarsky said he arrived in tropical Suriname on June 1 in the midst of one of the country’s two wet seasons. Local weather readings typically logged “temperatures of 102 degrees, with about 98 percent humidity,” which he said he tolerated well “once you get used to it.”
Clinics were set up in school buildings that, due to the climate, were windowless. Slarsky said he found the local patients he helped treat to be “very happy, pleasant and appreciative.”
“We saw hundreds of people every day for… you name it. Anything from cuts and scratches, a lot of dental procedures, eye examinations and glasses,” said Slarsky. To support the mission, a tractor-trailer’s worth of medical supplies were tightly packed together stateside and shipped to Suriname.
Slarsky brought home a unique keepsake from his mission. A local Dutch-language newspaper snapped a picture of Slarsky chatting with VIPs visiting one of the clinics he helped man. Slarsky was photographed talking to the U.S. Ambassador to Suriname, Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes, as well as Suriname Defense Minister Ivan Fernald and a member of the Suriname Health Ministry.
The Suriname trip was Slarsky’s second Med Red mission. In 2004, Slarsky was deployed to Ecuador to provide clinical services there. He said there may be more in his future.
“I look at it as a way to give something back for the things that I’ve had given to me,” Slarsky said.
Slarksy is a call captain for the Ayer Fire Department, former owner of the Medicine Shoppe on Main Street, and served as an Ayer selectman from 1983 to 1996. He is the father of three daughters, and lives with his wife, Sharon, on Sandy Pond.