HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
Guatemala Surgical Clinic
February 5-12, 2005

Participants: Drs. Quinton Dickerson, Brad Fitzwater, Judi Jehle, Roy Kellum, Philip Strawther, Dent Williams, Jeff Bennie, Jon Bennie, and Britton Harper; CRNAs Jon Buggs, JoAnn Mayes and Kristy Smith; nurses Nancy Bennie, Lisa Cantrell, Tonya Green, Rebecca Jarvis, Linda Osburn, Jill Robinson, Rebecca Wingard, Steve Vickers; student nurses Holly Russell and Ruth Anne Thornton; surg tech Vicky Buterbaugh; Chaplain Jerry Neill from Meadowbrook C/C; Translator Marta Fugett; Sterilization Alfred Anderson and William Strawther; Non-medical folks included Rebecca Bennie, Isaac Buggs, Pat Dwyer, William Harper, Doris Hendrix, Kyle Kendrix, Pat Dwyer, Marjorie Strawther, and Marie Agee.

Eight in the group, including Jeff Bennie and Alfred Anderson, took the morning flight from Nashville, so they arrived in Guatemala in mid-day and went on up to Montellano to set things up. Everyone else arrived without incident on the evening flight and spent the night at Seteca.

Sunday, Feb 6: We arrived at Montello a little after 8 in the morning. We ate breakfast, began unpacking, then went to worship across the street. To our pleasant surprise, it was a bi-lingual service with Baldemar preaching and Carlos leading singing, some in Spanish and English. By the time all the gringo visitors and the patients and their families arrived to join the regular members there, the building was full, with some even out on the porch!

The medical team returned to the clinic and the docs began examining waiting patients. The plastic surgeon, Dr. Philip Strawther, screened several babies and put them on the schedule for Monday because he wanted to make sure they had not eaten before surgery. The gyn docs screened their patients and, since we were getting a late start, each team (Drs. Judi and Dent and Drs. Roy and Brad) selected only two patients to operate on for the first day. They all had prolapsed uteri than needed fixing.

Monday, February 7: Morning began with a full slate of patients that the docs had screened the night before. Each gyn room had four prolapsed uterine cases to do, and Philip had five cleft palate surgeries. I spent most of my time preparing a schedule for the non-medical folks to ensure that they had something worthwhile to do, as well as making sure that all essential tasks were covered well. Everyone was included, even Jerry Neill, the chaplain. He started out as a helper in the gyn operating room. After nearly passing out, he gave up that job!

A 78-year-old woman was there because she had been essentially scalped because of having fallen and cutting the back of her head. The area had gotten infected and literally began to eat her scalp away! Philip was able to pull up enough skin from her face to mostly cover the area, then grafted skin from her thigh to cover the fifty-cent piece sized area that remained. Amazing! We learned that this woman was Baby Fredy’s great-grandmother. Baby Fredy was a tiny cleft palate baby that Dr. Philip had operated on two years before. He had come with her and his mother. Everyone was delighted to see that he is now a robust 3-year-old!

A young pregnant woman came in for a second opinion because she had been told the week before by a local doctor that her baby was dead. Dr. Roy Kellum did a sonogram on her and confirmed it. She cried the grief of any mother upon learning they had lost a child. Though she was only two months along, her grief was deep. Roy offered her three choices: let nature take its course, meaning she would ultimately miscarry; go to the national hospital for a D&C or have a D&C at Clinica Ezell. She opted to let Dr. Roy help her, so he prepped her for surgery.

By the end of the workday, all the patients were resting well in the ward.

After dinner during our evening devotional, our team chaplain, Jerry Neill, from the Meadowbrook Church of Christ in Jackson, Mississippi, continued his theme of the helplessness of the world without Christ. He used the real life story of a man with a brother born with multiple birth defects who was totally helpless for 32 years to draw our minds towards the conclusions he wanted us to see.

Afterwards, Quinton shared a brief overview of HTI. He presented it very effectively as a triangle with the surgery clinic being the tip of the iceberg of HTI’s ministry of compassion in Guatemala. From the basic level of health promoters to physicians to surgery, working thru local churches, he showed how Health Talents strived to have a holistic ministry to draw people to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 8: Tuesday morning began with an established rhythm. Marta, the Guatemalan nurse who helps us on all our surgery clinics, was starting all the Iv’s, which freed up the anesthesia folks. Most of the gyn cases were pretty typical prolapse cases. The plastics cases were all different, however, both in type and age. Some were simple lip repairs as a first step in repairing the palate next year.

Quinton went on a mobile clinic to Samayac with the health promoter, Diego Guarchaj, with Carlos Baltodano along for his translator. Jerry Neill, Pat Dwyer and a couple of teenagers, Isaac and William, went, too. They returned that evening saying they’d seen 31 patients.

Wednesday, February 9: My day started early this morning with a knock on my door. I stumbled out of bed and opened the door to learn that Linda Osburn was very sick. Linda had been working as Philip’s surgical nurse, so that meant we would have to jostle people around to make everything work smoothly. A brand new nurse, Becky Jarvis, agreed to take over Linda’s job and by asking Steve and Jill to each work ½ day for Tonya on the floor, we were able to pull her into the operating room as well. Everyone was very cooperative, so it all went smoothly. After a day in bed with an IV and antibiotics, she was fine.

Last night I learned that Philip was planning to operate on a 1-month-old baby. Knowing our normal parameters for cleft babies is 10 pounds/10 months, I asked him at breakfast if it was true that he was planning to operate on such a young child. He and Jon Bennie were sitting together at the time, so Philip grinned slightly, knowing of my heightened concern where babies are involved. He nodded towards Jon and said that it was true, but that the baby was robust 10 pounds... and he had Jon. Jon is an expert with babies, and he thought that it would be okay. I told Philip, "You know I trust you... and if you trust Jon, I will, too, but this is my first time on a trip with Jon, so I have no experience with him." They both assured me that all would be fine.

The operation itself went very smoothly, I was glad to see. When it came time to wake the baby up, however, it seemed to me it was taking much too long. JoAnn and Jon were both there working with him. I left to make myself busy in the supply room so I wouldn’t worry. About 20 minutes later, I heard the most joyous sound in the world... a baby crying. Not just ANY baby, but THAT baby! It was a beautiful sound!!

Another little girl came in with six toes on one foot. Philip easily removed the extra toe, and she was one happy camper!

Marjorie Strawther, love that she is, found a colorful surgeon’s cap and put in on the patient with the bad head wound. She looked so great in it! At least once a day Marjorie would get the ambulatory women up out of their beds and have them form a conga line and dance around the ward! They all loved it and it made everyone smile!

One of Philip Strawther’s patients today was a very shy, humble 19-year-old young man who had traveled alone several hours to get to Clinica Ezell. He had had cleft palate surgery many years before, but it had been poorly done, leaving him sounding very nasal when he talked. Philip was able to go in and close it tight so that he would be able to talk normally. Philip told me that cases like that were even more gratifying for him than operating on babies because that young man will know immediately what a difference the surgery will make in his life.

Quinton went with Diego Guarchaj to La Ceiba today to see patients, taking all the teenagers with him. They went expecting to see only a few patients, but they ended up seeing several before the day was over.

Thursday, February 10: Today is typically the "wind down" day, when we do inventory and let the patients recover another day before we leave. The gyn docs don’t operate, but Philip Strawther, the plastic surgeon, did. He had two cases: one involved removing keloids from the underarm area of a young woman, and the other was burn stricture release of a baby’s fingers. Philip had examined one infant baby girl who had a really bad cleft that he wasn’t able to operate on because she also had a bad heart defect. Quinton examined her and confirmed it. We are going to research what possibilities are available to repair her heart.

Silvia had scheduled several children who needed to be put to sleep in order for her to do their needed dental repair. One of her patients was a pretty dark-haired little girl in a wheelchair who appeared to be about 9-10 years old. I learned that she’d had meningitis when she was only 17-months-old and that it had left her brain-damaged and almost totally helpless. No one was even sure she could see. What made her remarkable was her father’s obvious love and concern for her. Everyone around noticed it because in a culture that doesn’t encourage fathers to be involved with their children, he stood out. All day as they waited he pushed her round and round and round through Clinica Ezell. His actions towards her were so tender. Some remarked that she was a visual representation of Jerry Neill’s devos all week about how helpless we are before our "Father in Heaven." The girl probably doesn’t realize how helpless she is because her earthly father cares for her so much...just as we often assume that we are in control, when our lives are really based on the blessings we receive from God.

Everyone who wasn’t working went to Xejuyup with Quinton and Diego to get a glimpse of how many of our patients live. We scheduled so that half the nurses went in the morning then came back in mid-day, when they relieved the nurses in the ward so they could go. Some of them were able to go to the waterfall.

Our final devotional at Ezell was moving and sometimes emotional, as we shared our thoughts and reflections of the week. The next morning we loaded the bus, told our patients and staff goodbye, and headed towards Antigua. One of the last things we saw was one of the gyn patients standing in the doorway waving to us... and crying. We left feeling as though we had made a difference in her life and the 39 others who had received surgical help in the name of our Lord.