News Release

Volunteers Are Just What the Doctor Ordered, for American Samoans

Physicians, called as missionaries, are providing care not available in the Pacific Island territory until now

With assistance from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, volunteer doctors from the USA are again coming to American Samoa to help improve patient care.

Three doctors and their spouses were called as volunteer missionaries by the Church to serve in the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medicine Center in Pago Pago.

This follows an earlier group of doctors organized by the Church who provided specialty care from 2019 to 2021.

The new group consists of three couples from Colorado, Washington and Utah, each with different specialties. Since American Samoa is a US territory, doctors licensed in the US can come there and practice medicine right away.

All responded to a request from the Church to come and give their time and talents to another part of the world that needs their skills.


Audrey and David Tarr were living in Oregon where she had a practice in Obstetrics and Gynecology and an additional specialty in Urology. She and David, who had recently retired from his job, were trying to figure out what was next for them.

“I had thought about sometime in the future serving as an area medical advisor for one of the many missions in the Church after we both retired,” said Dr. Tarr. “But we got a call from Church headquarters with this opportunity to serve now as a practicing physician.”

She felt strongly that it was especially important to come since she is afemale physician and has found that women in American Samoa are much more comfortable seeing a woman doctor as they haven’t had that option before.

In Oregon, she did a lot of community outreach to help women understand the warning signs for cancers and other health issues unique to women. She is planning to do the same in American Samoa.

Dr. Tarr is also concerned about high cancer rates among women in American Samoa and so is planning to work with the Department of Health to set up a monthly radio show to help build awareness about health issues like this one.

Elder Tarr spent his 30 year career in engineering for a large aerospace company with assignments all over the world. In American Samoa, he has been asked to help out in the engineering and maintenance team at the hospital, and so spends time troubleshooting equipment, finding replacement parts and acquiring new equipment.

He says it also has been interesting to be there as a missionary. “Since I wear my missionary badge, everyone knows I am a member of the Church. It’s been a great chance to answer questions from others and share spiritual experiences I have had.”

Jim and Helen Gebhard live in Grand Junction, a small town in western Colorado. Jim is an orthopedic


surgeon and specializes in treating patients with spinal conditions.

Like the Tarr’s, they considered volunteering as area medical advisors and since they speak Spanish, they thought they could serve in a Spanish speaking country. However, they were also contacted about coming to American Samoa and being able to directly practice medicine in a hospital and see patients of all kinds.

Sister Gebhard has a Masters Degree in Child Development and taught courses at the local community college in Grand Junction for parents with pre-school children.

She now teaches those same classes at the American Samoa Community College in Pago Pago five days a week. Her students are spread out over the island so the class is done by video conference, making it even more challenging. But she loves helping students learn how to be great parents.

She is also using the Church’s “Eat Healthy and Be Active” teaching materials in a diabetes prevention program that is just getting started in American Samoa.

Dr. Gebhard says that the hospital has not had anyone with a spinal specialty before so there is a long list of patients to see.

“We have been able to help patients that have become paralyzed because their conditions were not recognized in time. They will be helped even more when we get our surgery operations going here.”

They have already developed some very close relationships with their patients. “We’ve even been invited to two weddings!”


Robert Keddington was working in emergency medicine in Utah and had been retired for several years. One day in 2020 he got a call from a senior Church leader in Salt Lake City asking him if had ever thought about serving a medical mission.

“My wife Sue and I prayed sincerely to know if this was something we should do and got a lovely answer from our Father in Heaven that we should go.” That was two years ago and the Keddingtons have been living in Pago Pago since then, and loving every minute of it.

“I wasn’t too sure about getting back into practice after being away for so long, but I feel like the Lord has blessed me in so many ways to be here.”

“I was also concerned about seeing patients with conditions related to the tropics, something I had never seen in my practice in Utah. But before I left, my local church leader gave me a blessing and told me that I would be blessed with recall to help the people here. I found again and again that as I was examining a patient, I could recall something I learned in medical school more than 40 years ago that was just what this patient needed. Truly a blessing from the Lord.”

With his years of experience, Dr. Keddington was also asked to help with the management of the hospital and served on more than a dozen committees to help improve the hospital for the patients and also for the doctors, nurses and other employees.

Sister Keddington says she loves being in American Samoa and is there to support her husband in his long days at the hospital with a nice home and a hot meal to come home to.

Now their time in Pago Pago is up. The Keddington’s finished their service in July and they were feted with a thank you ceremony that included local Church leaders and members, and hospital staff.

Vincent Haleck spoke at the ceremony. He lives in American Samoa and served as the Pacific Area President for the Church in New Zealand from 2016 to 2019.

“While I was there, I saw many islanders try to come to New Zealand to get treatment but so few were able to come. I thought how wonderful it would be to have these medical treatments available right here at home in American Samoa.”

With encouragement from Church President Russell M. Nelson, who is also a physician, Elder Haleck was able to put this program in place that has reduced the need to go off-island for advanced treatment.


The Keddington’s were sent on their way home with the traditional coconut dance in appreciation for their service, performed by friends in Pago Pago.

In his final remarks, Dr. Keddington shared a part of a blessing he received as a young man.

“Your life will be a life of service,” the blessing said.

“I have seen the hand of the Lord in my service to the people here,” he says.

“It’s been a humbling, gratifying experience.”

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.