Lukk closing clinic to become a medical contractor in Iraq

Dr. Helle Lukk of Princeton is trading an occupation of owning and operating a medical clinic for a medical job in Iraq.
Lukk is closing her Healing Spirit Clinic this month that she has owned and operated in Princeton since 2003. She is awaiting finalization of a one-year contract to begin work in August as a physician in Iraq. helle-lukk
Lukk’s foreign service job will be with Comprehensive Health Service, a contractor to the U.S. State Department.
The United States pulled its troops out of Iraq in December 2011 after an eight-year war there, but car bombs and improvised explosive devices have continued to go off there. Lukk describes Iraq as still being an unsafe country and voiced concern that her blonde hair could draw even more attention to her being an American. She says she plans to wear a scarf over her hair if she knows she will be in contact with the Iraqi population.
Lukk, 56, is looking toward three weeks of training next month in Florida before going to Iraq. The training will include education about the Iraqi culture and how to deal with any terroristic acts that may arise.
She wouldn’t have considered going to Iraq had her son Christopher Sheldrew not been working there for nearly two years now as a medic contractor. He has been telling her about his place of work, including its three-feet concrete walls.
Lukk says she will be working for the same company that Christopher works for, and notes the company’s claim to have never lost anyone or had anyone seriously injured in 10 years.
(The rest of Lukk’s family – her husband Don Sheldrew – and children Allyson, 27, and Kyle, 19, will be in America while Lukk is in Iraq.)
Lukk, at her clinic office last week surrounded by several bouquets flowers and a stack of cards from patients and other well wishers, talked about her new job ahead. She will be working as a medical doctor at either the Iraq Air Force base or the American embassy, which are both in Baghdad, she explained.
She also talked about some of her experiences as a solo doctor at Healing Spirit Clinic and how she came to decide to close it and step back from clinic work for a year.
Helle Lukk (pronounced Hella Look) says that when she started her clinic a decade ago, “it was a huge risk,” and that some had expressed a hope that she would fail. But she says she gained a strong following of patients in Princeton and hates to part with them. Besides her time with Healing Spirit Medical Clinic, she spent 13 years as a physician at Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton.
Lukk, 56, has been in the medical field since September 1983, including work at other medical facilities before coming to Princeton.
She says a “financial bump on the road” is behind the decision to close her clinic. A former employee’s wrongdoing at her clinic “wiped out my personal 401 K,” Lukk said. Lukk adds that she won a civil liability suit against the former employee but has been unable to collect any money yet from the judgment. She notes that about the time the case was resolved in 2012, she was considering expanding Healing Spirit Clinic and hiring a medical partner.
Her goal was to try to recoup her financial losses, she explained. But as she examined the options, she realized that she would have to pay up front to hire a partner, and didn’t have enough cash flow to do so, she said. She also decided that the other option she examined of taking on more work at the clinic and remaining a solo physician wouldn’t have been too much.
Lukk said she was also becoming more frustrated by increased paperwork from insurance companies and increased government regulations, including the new federal Affordable Health Care Act.
She says that by taking a foreign service contract in Iraq, she can step back and watch to see how bugs are dealt with in the new federal health care law. Plus, she can think about whether she would want to work in a medical clinic again or take a non-clinic medical job.
Lukk, reviewing her new job, explained that her patients would be mostly contractors working in Iraq and notes that it will be “pretty basic medicine,” such as helping patients with hypertension and diabetes. She will not be assigned to surgery but will have to prepare for surgical work in an emergency. She will have to maintain her certification for CPR, as well as advanced cardiac life support, and advanced trauma life support.
Despite the potential dangers of working in Iraq, Lukk said she is looking forward to a “change of pace, the opportunity to travel, meeting new people and exploration through the job in Iraq. She says she will be working with contractors from all over the world and therefore will be “experiencing different cultures.”
Lukk said she also anticipates a slower pace of life, where she will be able to read books on a regular basis. Her only book time now has been during vacations, she said.
Going to other countries can also make “you appreciate what you have,” she said. She told about how that has happened to Christopher when he took a vacation in Thailand not too long ago. While there, Christopher developed a rapport with a taxi driver, who invited Christopher to his home for a meal. Lukk says that when Christopher arrived, he found the home of the cab driver, his wife, and their three children, to be one room about 10’ x 12’ with a dirt floor. The family served Christopher a “beautiful fish soup,” and kept refilling his bowl.
Lukk says her feelings about going to Iraq have been evolving since she first made the decision and that she now feels  both exhilaration and a little nervousness. But that is a normal feeling when going to a new job,” she added.
Lukk says that she is also still dealing with leaving her occupation as a doctor in Princeton.
“Honestly, there’s a lump in my throat,” she said. “I’ve known some of these people (who have been her patients) 20-plus years. It’s like saying goodbye to a good friend.”
After saying that, she pointed to the flowers and a stack of cards from well wishers. Some of her patients have expressed worry about her safety in Iraq, she says. Lukk answers that she could just as well end up in a violent situation in the Twin Cities.
Lukk was also philosophical, noting the saying she goes by that God closes one door and opens another. She then pointed to a sign on her door containing the single word, Believe.” Maybe the door is being opened for a reason, she said.
It just might be the route for a healing spirit.