Letting Go to Gain So Much More

February 15, 2018 • United States
Dr. Greg Alty
Dr. Greg Alty has served at several different mission hospitals in Africa through World Medical Mission.

The 2017 recipient of the “In the Footsteps of the Great Physician” award made a gutsy decision years ago that the Lord turned into an unexpected ministry opportunity.

Dr. Greg Alty was at the height of success when he decided to leave his thriving Virginia practice 13 years ago.

Dr. Alty in surgery.

Dr. Alty, left, is a gifted surgeon who serves with Christian compassion.

Some of his colleagues watched in disbelief, thinking the gifted general surgeon had lost his mind. Others admired his bold step of faith with a tinge of envy.

Looking back, Alty can now say with certainty that it was one of the best choices he ever made.

At the time, the Lynchburg physician was working about 27 days a month. He had tried to scale back his practice to have more time at home with his wife, Lisa, and young son, Isaac. But patients kept coming in need of his services.

“One thing led to another, and Lisa and I both came to the conclusion that it was in all of our best interests for me to stop doing surgery and be a full-time dad, which was what I felt the Lord called me to do,” he said. “As much as I loved doing surgery, I loved being a dad more.”

Family has always been a priority in Alty’s life. He didn’t stray too far from home, attending college at Duke University, a 2½ hour drive from Lynchburg, and completing medical school and residency training at the Medical College of Virginia. From there he returned as planned to his hometown and joined a group of three surgeons.

“It was a leap of faith.”

Having known each other since sixth grade, Greg and Lisa were high school sweethearts who married after his first year of medical school. Both were excelling in their careers—he as a surgeon and she as a university chemistry professor, when the couple found out they were expecting a child.

“He was a miracle baby, a special gift to us. The name ‘Isaac’ was intentional,” said Alty.

During the next several years, he felt an agonizing tug and pull as he became very successful in his medical practice but spent precious little time with his son. He felt convicted to put his family first and trust God for the outcome.

“It was a leap of faith,” Alty said of the difficult decision to walk away from his lucrative career. “I was giving up the income, the prestige, and the personal satisfaction of practicing medicine, but I felt that I would gain more than I gave up.”

Unbeknownst to him, the Lord was about to take his life in an extraordinary new direction that would return him to the surgical work he enjoyed—and give him more time with Isaac.

Trodding African Soil

Five months after his “retirement” in 2005, Alty attended Prescription for Renewal. A friend from medical school was involved with long-term missions in Kenya and had encouraged him to go to the World Medical Mission conference. Alty went mostly out of curiosity with no plans to serve.

“I did not leave my practice with any particular intention of doing mission work,” he recalled. “I quit specifically to spend more time with my wife and son.”

Dr. Greg and his son Isaac worked together in Zambia.

Dr. Alty and his son Isaac worked together in Africa.

Moved by the testimonies he heard from other doctors, Alty filled out an application for short-term volunteer service but figured that was the end of the matter. His interest was really only half-hearted. Besides, he had never been outside of the United States and was sure his wife wouldn’t let him go to a faraway place like Africa.

Around Thanksgiving he received a call from World Medical Mission staff notifying him that his application had been accepted and asking for dates when he could serve. When he told Lisa, she gave her blessing and urged him to go. Now he was out of excuses to God and knew it was time to take another step of faith.

The following spring, Alty was just as astonished as anyone to find himself at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya working alongside his medical school buddy. He served there for a month and loved the experience so much that he wanted to return—next time with his 12-year-old son.

In October, he and Isaac spent two weeks at Kijabe. It was a wonderful adventure for both of them. They served together again four years later, this time in Rwanda at Kibogora Hospital. Isaac donned gown and gloves and became an operating room assistant, learning how to pass instruments and hold retractors. He also accompanied his dad on trips to Zambia in 2013 and Togo in 2016 while he was a college student.

Those experiences left a lasting impression on young Isaac, who started thinking about a career in medicine when he was 15. He is currently in his second year of medical school at Harvard, and Alty couldn’t be more thrilled.

“He wants to be a surgeon, but I think he is open to exploring other opportunities too,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Lord led Alty back to full-time work in 2013, rejoining the surgical group in Lynchburg after an eight-year hiatus. He was delighted to return but sorely missed serving on the mission field. Seeking a more flexible schedule, he later switched to a part-time acute care surgical position with another group so he could practice medicine in Virginia and serve in Africa.

New Opportunities to Trust God

Life was fulfilling and uneventful until a few days after Christmas 2016 when Alty developed a deep, painful cough.

“In retrospect, I had been tired and short of breath for a while, but I thought I was just out of shape,” he said.

Dr. Alty received the “In the Footsteps of the Great Physician” award.

A chest X-ray showed a tumor in his left lung. Further tests were not encouraging. For the next three months, Alty faced one health crisis after another. Lisa took leave from her job to take care of him.

It has been a difficult and humbling journey, but one through which the surgeon has experienced the Great Physician’s healing power in his own body. Alty returned to work last May, and he and his family rejoice that CAT scans reveal the tumor is shrinking.

“The prognosis is one day at a time, and today is a good day,” he concluded. “I think the Lord is using a lot of prayers and working through my doctor to heal me.”

Alty said he was surprised but deeply honored to receive the “In the Footsteps of the Great Physician” award at World Medical Mission’s Prescription for Renewal conference in October. His prayer is that he can return to the mission field soon.

“All of the work the Lord has given me has been very rewarding—my work practicing in Virginia, the mission work overseas, and the opportunity to share those experiences with my son,” he said. “If God calls you to serve, you must answer.”

A Medical Missionary in Haiti
World Medical Mission World Medical Mission was established in 1977 to assist general surgeons who wanted to volunteer for short-term mission trips. Today, hundreds of volunteer Christian physicians, dentists, and other medical personnel work in mission hospitals and clinics around the world. We also staff a biomedical department and warehouse that provides critically needed equipment and supplies to these medical facilities.

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