The lives of people from one of the world’s poorest countries were touched by a team of medical professionals from the Kansas City area on a recent Medical Missions Foundation trip to Guatemala.
The team was comprised of doctors, nurses, audiologists, medical students and other health professionals from the University of Kansas Medical Center, The University of Kansas Hospital, Children’s Mercy Hospital and other Kansas City and Midwest health care institutions. They performed 95 surgeries and treated 145 patients during the trip in June. Audiology professionals from KU Medical Center saw 173 patients and fit 142 hearing aids. Photos: See Intercampus Program in Communicative Disorders and Medical Missions Foundation on Facebook.
"I feel like every time a patient blessed me it was a life-changing moment," said Laura Donnell, a senior student in the registered nurse anesthesia program from Kansas City, Kan. "It really touched my heart because they were truly grateful for what we were doing for them."
Medical Missions Foundation was formed in 1996 to provide critical care for the world's disadvantaged and forgotten. KU Medical Center and The University of Kansas Hospital have a long history working with the foundation. This summer's trip to care for patients at Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro, a hospital and church in Antigua, lasted from June 15 to 23.
The trip gave medical professionals a chance to experience life in another culture, while caring for an underserviced population in dire need of help. Donnell said while many of the patients lived in tin roof shacks that provided little protection from the torrential downpours, their attitudes were always positive even when they had to wait for hours to receive care.
Guatemala ranks among the poorest countries in the world, but surveys repeatedly show the people of the Central American nation are among the happiest.
"The people were unbelievably friendly and grateful for us being there," she said. "They would have to be at the hospital at 6 a.m. even if their surgery was in the afternoon, and no one ever complained, not even the little kids."
On a typical day, the anesthesia team would have breakfast together at their hotel and then walk to the hospital where they would plan the day and set up their rooms for surgery. Donnell said the surgeries themselves were similar to work in the United States, although they would have to improvise if they ran out of supplies.
"Our working accommodations were very nice considering we were in a developing nation," she said. "All the machines were old, but still in working condition. We weren't sure how often they were serviced, or if they were ever serviced, so we had to make adjustments for that. We spoke with other people that did other mission trips who didn't even have anesthesia machines, so we felt very lucky for our working conditions."
KU medical student Dustin Silverman said the week was all about getting back to the heart of what matters -- practicing medicine. He said the trip provided medical team members a chance to put aside the distractions of their personal and professional lives and focus on treating patients.
"Whether it was Augusto, a 7-year-old boy who was taken back to the operating room for a tonsillar re-bleed, or an older gentleman suffering from a massive neck tumor of unknown etiology, their smiles and gratitude were infectious," Silverman said. "Despite patients’ hardships and financial worries, they continued to maintain a positive outlook and expressed genuine appreciation for the bond forged between caregiver and patient."
For Silverman, the team of ear, nose and throat doctors, urology physicians and fellow students, the trip was filled with touching moments and poignant memories, including one chronicled by trip blogger Andrew Simpson in this post:
"Another young man came to the Obras after a failed rhinoplasty, with a warped rib graft sticking through the bridge of his nose. He struggled every day to hide his condition, and filled with embarrassment, he constantly wore a bandage over his nose. Dr. Clint Humphrey was tasked with reconstructing his nose. When the 18-year-old woke in post-OP, he couldn’t stop crying. Without an interpreter, doctors and nurses believed the man to be in pain. Only after he was able to sob out ‘I’m so happy’ in English did the atmosphere of confusion turn to a heartwarming moment.”
Audiology Team: Doctoral audiology students, from left, Jonathan Wilson, Amber Hilderman, Pam Svitak, Ashley Lombardi, Lindsey Pacey) were accompanied on the trip by licensed audiologist Teresa Kennalley, Au.D., second from left.
For the audiology team, the work in Guatemala was equally as rewarding, treating patients ranging in age from 1 to 100. The audiology and ENT teams worked together and saw between 30 and 35 patients a day starting around 8 a.m. and working well past 5 p.m. Many of the patients had waited months to be treated by the visiting team.
"I look forward to this mission trip and the opportunities that it brings to our students," said audiology team leader Teresa Kennalley, who made her third trip to Guatemala. "They are anxious to be of service to others, and this allows them to use their new skills to help a large number of people who would not have any hearing health care, if we did not make the effort to make the trip. The students pay their own way, so it is truly a giving of their time, and resources. "
The Medical Missions trip brought together a group with divergent skills and talents but over the course of a week they came together as a team to treat a host of Guatemalans with a variety of illnesses and conditions. Team members were able to offer their specific talents to the effort, while coming away with new knowledge about themselves and their professions.
It is very touching to see the difference it makes in so many lives," Kennalley said.
"Not only did this trip have a great group of anesthesia providers, but also a great group of nurses, physicians and ancillary people," Donnell said. "We all worked together to help enhance and change many of these people's lives."
The University of Kansas School of Health Professions is located on the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan., and offers more than 25 academic programs in health care fields. The School is recognized for its highly ranked educational programs as well as the significant research and clinical service it provides in support of the local community and the State of Kansas.