HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Guatemala Surgical Clinic Report
April 5-12, 2003

by Marie Agee

Participants: Drs. Bill Bailey, Phil Bates, Grady Bruce, Lance Bruce, Enrique Duprat, Miriam Duprat, Michele Federer, Judi Jehli, and David Craig; CRNAs John Buggs and Deloris Schultz; nurses Carolyn Freeman, Elaine Griffin, Greg Holder, Lynea Hollis, Melinda Kloepfer, Cathy Love and Tanya Trapp; Surgery techs Buddy Ingram and Deb Pearce; Translator Chantel Ervin; Instrument sterilizer chief JoLee Thayer and crew Joe Bosch and Steve Cotter; Nursing assistants Elizabeth Buggs, Sarah Cotter, Jacqueline Giles and Rachel Pearce, chief handyman Dennis Griffin, and group leader Marie Agee.

With only one exception everyone arrived in Guatemala without incident, and in that case the flight was delayed only a short time. Half the team flew from Houston and the other half from Miami. We arrived within a couple hours of each other, loaded the bus and traveled to Seteca, the evangelical college, where we spent the night. As usual, we got up in time to leave for Montellano at 5 a.m. After breakfast, unloading and unpacking the supplies we’d brought, and screening of waiting patients, our surgical clinic began in earnest. Amazingly, it was only a couple hours after we had arrived at Clinica Ezell. I could tell that despite the fact that half the team members had never been to Guatemala before this was going to be a very efficient and cohesive team!

We had three medical specialties represented on this clinic: general surgery, gynecology, and urology. By the end of the week, the surgical team had performed 73 surgeries and two small procedures. That is one of the highest case totals we’ve ever been able to do and is especially amazing since we were short on nurses. The nurses we had, however, were super capable and worked incredibly to take up the slack! I was so proud of their commitment to make this work.

Being at Clinica Ezell has something to do with our being able to perform so many surgeries as well. After working in the old facility in Chocola for ten years, we almost became accustomed to breaks in electricity, water cut offs, etc. Those problems are almost non-existent at Ezell, especially with our automatic electric generator that kicks in when the lights go out!

We had several children with hernias this time. Children are always a joy and a concern at the same time. They are a joy because they are so trusting and fun—most of the time. There is sometimes that occasional child who is terrified at all that is going on around him! We had one of those this time, a little girl about five years old. She ended up settling down and doing very well. Her mother stayed with her the whole time, of course.

A couple of our patients had really unusual problems. The urologist, Dr. Grady Bruce, was able to provide blessed relief to Diego, a man who had been involved in an accident eight years before. When he fell out of the back of a pickup truck after picking coffee all day, his 100 lb. bag of coffee beans fell on him and cracked his pelvis—which pinched his urethra. The doctors in Guatemala had been unable to help him, and for eight years he has had to live with a catheter super pubic catheter to empty his bladder. Dr. Bruce was able to repair his damaged urethra so well that with three days he was able to remove the catheter and let the man go home! Can you imagine the blessed relief that Diego felt?

Another patient, who was 56 years old, had a large abdominal hernia from having been gored by a bull several years before. The surgeon was able to repair the hernia, but during his recovery period, it appeared that the patient seemed to have suffered a perioperative neurological event for some unknown reason. The good news is, however, that he has made a remarkable recovery in the couple of weeks following. He will continue to receive some physical therapy.

There are always those patients that we are unable to help, and it makes us sad. One was an older man who had had hernia repair surgery in Guatemala several years before, but his internal stitches had given way a short time later. The result was that he now had a huge hernia, lived in constant pain, and came to us looking for help. All the surgeons were in agreement that it would be incredibly risky to attempt a surgery of that magnitude at our facility. The man cried when he heard their opinion. The good news is that Buddy Ingram, one of our surgical techs, is a rep for Zimmer products. Zimmer makes all kinds of orthopedic devices. Buddy said he would find a binder that we could send to the man that he could wear to relieve some of the pain and pressure he lived with.

One humorous thing happened concerned a woman who thought she needed a hysterectomy. Upon examining her, however, the doctors learned she was a diabetic, of a serious enough magnitude that they felt it would be risky to operate on her at Ezell. The woman was determined to change their minds, howver, and throughout the day went around the facility trying to get others, including me, to give her a second opinion or beg the doctors to operate on her anyway! Dr. Sergio Castillo finally convinced her that it was in her best interest to abide by their decision.

Because our stated intent is to offer surgical care in the name of Jesus, I am always impressed by the efforts individual team members make to reflect His warm compassion. The smiles, hugs, and tenderness team members showed our patients every day was so inspiring. Whether they were inserting catheters, helping them walk to the bathroom, or simply adjusting their covers, that special touch was there. The folks from the West Islip Church of Christ had brought enough patient take-home bags for all our patients. They included personal care items as well as a Spanish Bible. Many of our patients were unable to read the Bible, but they treasured it nonetheless. There was also Jacqueline Giles, a non-medical support person, who had photocopied lots of Bible story sheets and crayons and spent much time handing them out to the children, both patients and children of patients. And daily, each and every afternoon, our Health Talents Guatemalan evangelist, Baldemar Ruiz, went from bed to bed, talking and praying with patients.

By the time the week was over, the veterans on the trip declared this one of the best weeks ever! The camaraderie on the team was exceptional, the spirit of Christ was among us, and the Lord blessed our patients with easy recoveries. Glory to God in the highest!