HEALTH TALENTS INTERNATIONAL
MEDICAL/DENTAL TRIP REPORT
Chichicastenango, Guatemala
November 1-6, 2006

TRIP REPORT

Participants: Physicians Drs. David Weed, Charlie Ferrell and Jeanie Tryggestad; Dentists Drs. Jim Haller, Anna Ferrell, Robert Lamb; Pharmacists Dave Ellis and Guthrie Hite; Nurses Cheryl Bode, Crystal Loden, Greg Holder, Jenny Boyer, Mary Reynolds; Chaplain Jeff McMillon; Translators Elizabeth Hollman, Julie Wheetley , Jackie Collier; Dental Assistants Jon Nickerson, Barbara Haller, Donna Lamb, Rob Lamb and Mark Spradley: Ancillary staff Jo Wheeler, Martin and Lisa Paschall, Allison and Claire Ferrell, Shirlie Ellis, Trip Leader Valari Wedel. Guatemalan staff: Carlos Baltodano, Dr. Lisa and Kemmel Dunham, Dra. Silvia Albizures, Dr. David Lux, Dra. Josephina Lux, Marcos Lux, Alex Gonzalez, Rosario, Nidia, Luis, Gaspar, and Cata.

Our team met in Houston and flew to Guatemala City without incident. Kemmel and Lisa Dunham and Carlos Baltodano met our flight. Our translators Elizabeth, Julie and Jackie, who had been studying Spanish in Antigua, also, met our flight. Lisa Dunham’s sister, Anna Ferrell, a dentist, and her husband, Charlie, a physician, and their daughter’s, Allison and Claire, made their first trip to Guatemala. Lisa and Anna’s parents, Martin and Lisa Paschall, were also on our team. So it was a family reunion in the Guatemala City airport. The terminal is undergoing renovation which should be complete in Spring 07.

We loaded the bus and had a chicken dinner on the way to Chichicastenango. We arrived at the Hotel Santo Tomas for a great dinner. We had our group introductions and got to bed fairly early for a 6:15 breakfast on Thursday. We met Drs. David Lux and Josephina Lux. This is the first time that I have had a chance to meet or work with them and they are very caring and compassionate physicians. They are a great addition to our great Guatemalan staff.

We split our team into two groups; one group went to Mactzul Sexto and the other to Pacaja Xesic. Mactzul Sexto is a large congregation in the middle of no where. Two thousand Mayans had worshipped at a meeting the weekend before and the members were watching the services on videotape. There are 5 or 6 elders in Mactzul Sexto and they were working with our team. They shared scripture with the patients prior to their examination and prayed with them after the exam or treatment. This is the way Health Talents wants medical evangelism to work. Eighty medical patients and 55 dental patients were treated at Mactzul Sexto.

Dia del Muerto is roughly the equivalent of Memorial Day in the United States. The translation is "Day of the Dead" and is a week long celebration and includes the first few days of November. Visits to the cemeteries and kite flying are always part of the celebration and is a top priority. Such a priority that our first day of clinic was abnormally slow. We probably didn’t see more than 30 patients that day. Considering we had gotten up at 3 o’clock the previous morning and hadn’t gotten to bed before 11 o’clock the night before, it was truly a respite.

It was a beautiful day as we traveled north through the city arch in Chichicastenango into the farm lands. Pavement most of the way then on to a fairly well maintained dirt and gravel road past fruit orchards and corn fields. A fairly prosperous area by Guatemala standards. Houses were made of adobe or concrete blocks for the most part with shanties erected in the fields for the workers.

We arrived at Pacajo Xesic; I have no idea how to pronounce it. For sure, it is a Mayan name. The church pews had been removed and a large piece of fabric hung to separate the area where patients were to be seen. The temperature was perfect with a slight breeze blowing through the doors and windows. The name "Guatemala" means "eternal spring" and that day was a perfect example of its name sake.

The church building was new. It didn’t even have "Iglesia de Cristo" emblazoned across the front above the door as is the usual custom. On one side and the back of the building was a corn field with stalks ten feet tall. Beans wound their way up the stalks and squash of several varieties were interspersed within the field. Roosters, hens and turkeys pecked at insects on the slope leading up to the home of one of the church’s elders, Aparecio Alvarez.

Jeff McMillon was given the job of counting out medications and placing them in little zip lock bags. As time wore on, he was joined by a couple of ladies. Labels would be printed later and placed on the bags. It sounds like a small thing, but the pre packing of meds is a very essential part of every medical mission trip. Without it, the pharmacy would become a real "bottle neck" considering each patient gets an average of 4 prescriptions.

About noon, we were told we were going to Aparecio’s house for lunch. Tables were set up and we ate in two shifts because of space. A fresh vegetable salad was served which included grated radishes and carrots along with lettuce topped with a chicken breast. The room next door was the kitchen with a cast iron stove heated with wood. The top was covered with thick, soft tortillas. Rather bland, butter and salt had to be added to enliven the taste.

Soon we were back at work in the church building seeing patients. When they stopped coming, we packed up and headed back to the city. Twenty-eight medical patients and 18 dental patients were treated at Pacaja Xesic. We arrived before dark that evening thanks to Dia del Muerto.

Jeff McMillon led nightly devotionals. The first night we had the opportunity of hearing Voces Accapella, a group of Guatemala singers who sing in Spanish and Quiche. We had heard them last year and they were great, but they are even better this year. It was very inspirational. Jeff McMillon’s devotionals were on a word for the day. His first word was “tambien”, which means too, also or okay in Spanish. Jeff prayed with patients that day and he was praying with a woman. They explained to the woman that Jeff would be praying in English. The woman replied, “Tambien.” “OK”. Jeff and the woman both knew that the God we worship could understand all languages and God would understand Jeff’s prayer for the woman. This devotional was just after we had sung a song in Quiche, the same song in Spanish and the same song in English. We needed translation, but God doesn’t.

On our second day of clinics, we split into 3 teams. One group went to Choacaman IV, which was located about 45 minutes outside of Santa Cruz de Quiche. We parked the bus at the roadside, unloaded our equipment and medicines to a truck that carried it to a foot bridge. Then, we carried our gear about ½ mile up-hill. The dental clinic was set up in their church building and the medical clinic was set up in the preacher’s house. Again, members of the congregation worked with us. We saw 24 dental patients and 25 medical patients. We then carried our gear down the hill to find the truck had a flat tire. So, the flat was changed and the gear was taken back to the bus in a light rain. Dr. Josephina Lux and her brother, Marcos, who is about to graduate from dental school, worked with us in Choacaman. As we returned thru Santa Cruz, we stopped at the filling station and Josephina and Marcos’ parents met us. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet them.

The other group went to Paxot II and Tzanixnam. The dentist’s stayed in Paxot and saw eighty patients. The physicians and pharmacist went to Tzanixnam, a new village for HTI, and they saw 120 patients.

Dave Ellis relates his trip to Tzanixnam:

Our wake-up time was 5:30 a.m. for breakfast at 6:30 followed by a 2 hour trip west of Chichicastenango, Guatemala to a predominately Catholic village never visited by a Health Talents International medical group .This was only one of 7 villages visited Nov. 2 - 4. We left the pavement and began a grueling trip over a washed-out rocky road traveled mostly by four-wheel drive pickups. We traveled through tiny villages, past apple orchards, corn fields and over mountains. Many times we could look down on the clouds as we climbed to an altitude of about 8,000 feet.

When we arrived at Tzamixnam (pronounced "Shaw-me-nahm") we found a village with one street on a mountain ridge from where you could see for miles in either direction. There were no other roads, only trails through the lush vegetation speckled with tiny houses across the entire landscape. Shortly after our arrival it started to rain and it didn’t stop. Many patients had walked many miles. There was no question they needed medical care, lots of it. Intestinal parasites, fungus as well as bacterial infections, lice and scabies to mention a few. Arthritis symptoms and malnutrition were rampant and most adult patients got a package of ibuprofen or naproxyn and vitamins along with their other medications.

This was one of the few times we had ever provided medical services to a village where there was not a church of Christ. The elders in surrounding areas were interested in establishing a church in Tsamixnam and asked us to do a clinic. Subsequently, they would go to work doing one-on-one Bible studies and later begin worship services. It will be a long process but we know that God will provide.

We set up the clinic in a municipal building/school by shoving desks and chairs to the sides and hung a sheet across one end to provide a level of privacy for examinations. The pharmacy was set up on the other end by placing a ladder across three evenly spaced desks and spare desk tops placed on top of the ladder to provide a working space eight to ten feet long. We were ready! The patients came and came and it rained and rained -- all day. Because of the weather, nobody wanted to be outside. Even after they had seen the doctor and had their prescriptions filled, they wanted to stay inside. That was where the action was, truly a great social event.

It was a full day with a 1 p.m. break for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches prepared by spreading the peanut butter with a tongue depressor. Near the end of the day, the "mayor" and other officials called a meeting with our leaders and requested monthly clinics. We had been accepted! The Lord willing, this will pave the way for Bible studies and the establishment of yet another church in the highlands of western Guatemala.

Jeff McMillon’s “Word for this Day” was “ojos”- eyes. Jeff used the scripture II Chronicles 16:9 which states: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those who hearts are fully committed to him.” Jeff told about the 97 year old man with cataracts who came to the clinic hoping something could be done for his vision. He, also, told us about 2 men who could not see well and were trying on glasses. They were overcome with excitement as they could see. Jeff hoped that the people of the villages that we served looked through their eyes and would see our trucks, bus and medical people working as the Lord strengthening the people of Guatemala.

Our third day of clinic was another great day. One group went to La Palma. It was a 4x4 adventure without having to pay for it. La Palma is located at about 7500 feet above sea level. We also went into the clouds to this village. La Palma has no running water or electricity. We had to carry our gear about a kilometer downhill to the village, but it seemed like 4 kilometers when we returned uphill. Dra. Silvia performed dental exams on the ABC children in this village and we, also, performed extractions. We saw 38 dental patients and 38 medical patients were treated.

Donna Lamb brought coloring books about Jesus life that were translated into Spanish and Quiche. Carlos told the story of Jesus to the children and gave them colors that had been donated for our trip. The children and parents had never colored before. Carlos showed them how to do it. We were all amazed at how quickly they picked this up and how well they colored.

As we were leaving La Palma, a truck drove up with 2 sick children that had not been able to make it to the clinic. Dr. David Weed had a “tail-gate” clinic. Both of these children had respiratory problems which were treated. On the way home, we stopped by the house of a boy with a broken leg that had been treated in Santa Cruz, but the parents had no money for medicine. We provided the needed medication.

The other group went to Chuchipaca. Chuchipaca is privileged to be visited every two weeks by a Health Talents International team in the local church of Christ building. The village sits about two hours west of Chichicastenango, Guatemala on the side of a hill overlooking a vast fertile slope that eventually gives way to a narrow valley. Corn, referred to as "food of the gods," grows plentifully and is planted and cultivated 100% manually. It is back breaking work and is done so with heavy hoes over a foot wide and almost as high.

When we arrived, it was already raining and a very large blue plastic tarp had been extended outward from the front of the building. This was to keep the already gathering patients a little dryer. There wasn’t room in the building for both waiting patients and patients being seen by the doctors and dentists.

No sooner were we set up than the first patients were escorted to the waiting doctors and dentists. It wasn’t long before the first frightened child let out a scream from the dental area. That wasn’t to be the final protestation of the day; far from it.

For lunch, the church ladies had prepared cooked vegetables and a two inch cube of meat in a bowl. One by one, as we entered the eating area, a boiling hot broth was poured over the stew and it was served individually. Previously we were told to eat what had been prepared for us; otherwise, it would be taken as an insult and our resident personnel would be questioned and asked if their offerings weren’t good enough for us. The patients continued to come even though it rained all day. Through the mud, they were apparently used to it. We began packing up at 5:00 p.m. leaving the church at 5:30. It was getting dark and we had two hours of rough, rocky, muddy road back to Chichicastenango hopefully, in time for dinner.

That day we saw about 200 medical and dental patients while filling over 400 prescriptions. The patients were all Maya Indians. Only the younger ones spoke any Spanish at all. The remainder spoke one of the native dialects of Quiche of which there are over two dozen. As you can imagine, communication was challenging, but the love of God transcended all.

Jeff’s “Word for the Day” was “el camino”. He said this was a 1960’s half-car/half- truck. He said just kidding. He related “el camino” to the path. We had traveled several different paths over the last few days- slick paths to the banos, steep paths to clinics, slippery roads to clinic. We have choices as we choose paths. Jeff reminded us of the narrow way to heaven. His “Words of the Day” were an effective technique for devotionals.

On Sunday, we worshipped and our focus was on the Lord’s Supper. We then visited the market in Chichicastenago and made several purchases. We then loaded the bus for our return trip to Guatemala City. We had a final dinner at La Estancia. It was a great and successful trip.

Up and out from the Biltmore Express at 5:30 to return to the United States and the group then split up in Houston to return their separate ways after a very successful clinic. We always give God the glory for successful trips.