Trumbull doctor, wife plan missions trips

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Dr. Steve Swain of Canfield, left, a family practice physician for Steward Medical Group, and his wife, Katie, talk about their nonprofit organization, Brown Horse Projects.

A chat with a patient changed the course of Dr. Steve Swain’s life.

“He was a children’s pastor at his church. He was telling me about taking his youth group to Africa,” Swain said. “I said, ‘I’d like to do that some time.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come with us?’

“So I did,” the Trumbull Regional Medical Center-affiliated doctor said. “I’ve been going (on missions trips) ever since.”

That July 2011 trip to Togo, West Africa, with Dan Osborne, then youth pastor of Tabernacle Evangelical Presbyterian House of Hope in Austintown, captured Swain’s heart.

A couple years later, so did Katie.

On a missions trip to Haiti, Steve Swain met a woman from his own town who became his wife. They were dating by the Haiti trip the next year and married soon after. This summer will be the seventh missions trip together for the couple from Canfield.

Steve, 42, has both a private family medicine practice and a family practice clinic at Steward Primary Care on Gypsy Lane in Youngstown. Another Family Practice Center is set to open this summer at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren.

But at least once per year, Swain takes a team of doctors and interns — as well as musicians, artists and others with compassion — to operate free clinics in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic.

“We spread the Gospel through art, music, water and medicine,” Steve said.

“We live in a really hard world. It’s difficult,” Katie, 40, said. “We wanted to use the gifts we were given to spread hope through Christ.”

The group goes under the name Brown Horse Projects, a nonprofit started years earlier by Katie and her sister, Andra LaMarca.

“We would make different shirts, bags and garments, and donate the profits to charities that we were led to support,” Katie said.

The nonprofit was named for a rescue horse that lived on their mother and stepdad’s farm.

“He was in really bad shape physically and mentally,” Steve said. “He didn’t trust anyone and looked pretty bad. They simply referred to him as Brown Horse, and it stuck.

“Over time through consistent love and care shown to him, he survived and thrived,” Steve said. “That’s the basic premise of the story. No matter what circumstances you’re in, you can be redeemed through love.”

Brown Horse Projects eventually shifted its focus to medical missions.

“The long-term goal,” Katie said, “is to open a permanent clinic in Balan (Haiti).”

Brown Horse already raised $38,000 to keep the clinic open two days per week for a full year and are raising money to keep it going. They have a Haitian doctor, Roosevelt Pierre, to run it. The Swains hope the clinic will open within the next month. They just won’t be there to see it.

Because of unrest and violence, the U.S. Department of State recently issued a ban on travel to Haiti. So this year, the team will set up camp in the Dominican Republic, the nation that occupies the other 66 percent of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island it shares with Haiti.

“We’ll do 10 days of clinic work in 10 locations in the city of Barahona,” Steve said.

“A lot of Haitians who came to the Dominican Republic live there,” Katie said.

“Five of us doctors are going,” Steve said. “A total of 17 people are going. We’ll probably be seeing over 1,000 patients.”

“A lot of times for clinic, people travel long distances and wait outside four of five hours to be seen,” Katie said.

“So our thought process,” Steve said, “is art and music can be blended in.”

Art lessons are given to waiting children. The group also attends local churches, where the enthusiastic services can last for three or more hours.

Brown Horse works with leaders in the communities where they set up to teach the doctors about customs and patients. They also team with Works through Grace and Peace Missionary Fellowship in Niles, which has a mission in the Dominican Republic. Teams of doctors from various groups rotate through the clinics throughout the year.

“I think we are fed (spiritually) more than the people we help,” Steve said. “Meeting and talking with the people make each trip meaningful. They have little in terms of material things, but they are happy, so loving and appreciative and kind.”

Why Haiti?

“Our heart is in Haiti. There’s something about Haitian people,” Steve said. “They’re really looking for something, something that they don’t have. We offer them hope through medicine first, but long term to salvation in Jesus.

“They’re a sweet people once you cut through their hardness,” he said. “The challenge is to get them to trust you in the first place, then be genuine.”

Katie said, “Some are called to help next door. Some are called down the street. Some are called to Haiti. The world’s broken everywhere. There’s opportunity to help everywhere.

“I think if you just look around, there are so many opportunities. You don’t have to look far to help someone in need.”

“Be kind, smile, ask them how they’re day is going,” Steve said. “Get off your phone and connect.”

“For being so connected, we’re not connected,” Katie said. “Genuine conversation can be your mission field.”