In 2000, Larry Biehler closed the doors to his pediatrics office after nearly 40 years.
That year, after a check-up, doctors put him in the hospital and did surgery to clean out his right carotid artery. Five days later, the left artery was operated on. Seven days later, Biehler had four heart bypasses and his aortic valve was replaced. A couple of years later, he was diagnosed with West Nile, then had a kidney stone surgically taken out and two cataracts removed. Just a year ago, he had a stroke, and is still recovering from that.
“With all that, either God has a place for me, or I’m just too mean,” said Biehler.
Chances are it’s the former. God does have a place for Biehler and has had for years.
The retired doctor has taken 130 medical mission teams into 17 countries over the last 32 years. In addition, he has been volunteering at the Oklahoma City Baptist Mission Center for nearly 40 years, and is still the doctor on duty there the first Tuesday of every month.
He and his wife, Arlene, who has been his partner in the medical endeavors, were born about a quarter of a mile from each other near Omega, about 15 miles west of Kingfisher. They attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Biehler graduated from the OU medical school in 1960, did his internship and residency in Oklahoma City and opened his pediatrics practice in Northwest Oklahoma City.
“I started doing medical mission trips in 1980, because even though I was doing volunteer medical work, I figured there were needs to be met in other areas of the world,” said Biehler, who is a member of Oklahoma City, Highland Hills. “Larry Jones of Feed the Children was starting ministry at that time and was looking for someone to lead a medical team.”
Biehler’s first mission trip was to Haiti with his wife, two of his daughters, a nurse and a couple of lay people.
Since then, he has led teams to Thailand, Romania, Moldova, Albania, Kenya, Malawi, Paraguay, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico and other countries.
“We go as a Christian team, not just medical, but to witness,” said Biehler. “We usually see between 6,000-8,000 people in the clinics we set up, and fit 2,500-3,000 with eye glasses on each trip. It’s a well-rounded team with normally 1-2 dentists and an evangelistic team. We hand out anywhere from 2,000-2,500 New Testaments.”
Biehler said something that might be unusual for medical teams is that he fits glass eyes.
“The first glass eye I fitted belonged to my grandmother, who lost her eye when she was about 5, jumping on a bed with a pair of scissors,” he revealed. “When she died, we didn’t bury the eye with her. My children used it for show and tell, and when they finished with it, I took it with me to Mexico where I found a young man who had his eye put out. It looked beautiful.”
Biehler said he was introduced to someone in New York who makes glass eyes and teaches students how to make them.
“He has supplied me with about 100 glass eyes, and I have learned how to cut them to fit,” he noted. “We also fit hearing aids, and can always use hearing aids if people have unused ones lying around.”
The Biehlers have five children, two of them adopted from El Salvador.
“Our oldest, Jefry, is chairman of the department of pediatrics at Florida International Medical School,” he said. “The husband of Lori, our oldest daughter, is medical director of the Children’s Center in Oklahoma City. Julie’s husband is an ER doctor at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Flor, the oldest of our adopted girls, is the wife of a computer science specialist at Chesapeake, and Mavi, our youngest, is married to an interventional cardiologist at Oklahoma Heart Hospital.”
Biehler said he could talk all day about the experiences he’s had on mission trips, but two came immediately to the forefront.
“I had an interpreter in Thailand who was a Buddhist,” remembered Biehler. “I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord on a mountain top in Thailand—truly a mountain-top experience.”
Biehler said on his last trip to Romania, he had an interpreter who was in high school, and had not decided what she wanted to do, but after working with the medical team for a week, she decided she wanted to go into medicine.
“She is now a third-year medical student in Bucharest,” Biehler said. “Several we have worked with have gone into medicine.”
Recently, Biehler has started doing eye clinics in Oklahoma, conducting about one a month.
With all of his health problems the last few years, is it about time he retired from medical missions and volunteering?
“We’re working on our next trip,” he said. “We’ll go to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Paraguay, Romania or Moldova. I’m very blessed.”
And so are hundreds of thousands of people around the world.