Health Talents International
Spring Break Eye Surgery Clinic
March 8-15, 2008

Participants: Ophthalmologist Dr. Lee Coleman; Surg tech Amy Coleman; Dentist Dr. Gerard Cascio; Dental Asst Deborah Watson; Nurses Ben Arrowwood, Abby Kessler, and Steve McElroy; Nurse Practitioner Kim Leverett; EMT Mike Benner; Physical Therapist David Loverett; Team Chaplain Dennis Doughty; Translators Aby Owens, Erika Martinez, Shanaal Smothers, and Julie Wheetley; Compassionate volunteers Sean Benner, Kathy Doughty, Audrey Edwards, Todd Goen, Chase Hagood, Pat McElroy, Tommy Marshall, John Monger, Patty Monger, Connie & Terry Norwood, Jay Owens, Lori Prince, Gina & Shane Schutte, Steve and Jane Watson, and Marie Agee.

This eye surgery team was different for two reasons: With 34 team members, it was by far the largest group we’ve ever had for an eye team, and 27 of those were from one church…the Campus View Church of Christ in Athens, Georgia. Because so many came from one church and because so many of them were without any sort of medical training, the dynamics were quite different from the norm and the activities during the week were unique. The connection was that Steve Watson, minister of the Campus View church, is Amy Coleman’s father. Amy, and her husband, Lee, have served on many earlier HTI eye surgery teams, and Steve had served as chaplain on one of those teams. He wanted to bring a group from his church to experience medical evangelism as he had.

As has happened on so many of our recent trips, some of the luggage didn’t arrive with the group, including Dr. Lee’s eye surgery instruments. Fortunately, we had one set of eye instruments and enough miscellaneous instruments for him to use until his arrived. They finally did on Monday. Lee operated on four people by the end of the day on Sunday.

The big activity on Monday was very, very special. For the first time ever, Carlos Baltodano and Julie Wheetley had arranged for a group of 125 rock-bearing youngsters from the school across the street to come and attend a “character class” to be conducted by the Campus View team. When I first heard about it, I readily envisioned 125 little kids going crazy running around the Clinica Ezell grounds throwing those rocks at each other with the rest of us trying our best to catch them and calm them down long enough for a class! Nothing could have been further from the truth!

These children were so incredibly well behaved that it was amazing. They were divided into five groups with each group rotating between five different stations where five different Biblical lessons were taught concerning truth, integrity, and character. Some were conducted in a typical classroom style setting; others in a more free form mode that allowed the children to move/run around freely in the context of the principles being taught. The last station was one in which the students had an opportunity to decorate one of those rocks that they had brought that would eventually bear their names. Julie Wheetley manned that station and talked with them as they decorated about deliberately promising to hold to high standards for themselves. As they turned their decorated rocks over to her, she would ask them what they wanted to promise to do. Their answers were gratifying. They said things like, “I want to be a better student, I want to obey my parents, and I want to help others.”

The next day Lori and Todd engraved each student’s name on the rock he/she had decorated. On Wednesday the students came back for the closing ceremony where each child was given a certificate for attending the class and each took part in the erection of a monument made up of the stones containing their names. The stones were carefully placed in a pile just inside the Clinica Ezell fence so the children could view it as they came and went from school. It will serve as a reminder of the promises they made that day to be better citizens, better people, and to live for God.

This was such a wonderful door opener to the community around the clinic. I doubt that those students will ever forget their day at Clinica Ezell and the wonderful lessons they heard.

Another activity that the group was heavily involved in was to help deliver ABC food supplies to the ABC children and the families in the area. About four people a day traveled with Violeta and Alexandra, our Guatemalan ABC coordinators, as they went from village to village and house to house passing out food. It was a favorite activity of the week for many because of the privilege of going into the homes of the people we serve. In many cases, they were invited to stay for lunch prepared by the family.

On a more mundane (but equally as important) note, our forty-foot container of medical supplies and equipment arrived the week before this team did. The boxes were stacked on the porch of the bodega and needed to be sorted and stored. This wonderful group, full of big, strong guys, and even some of the women, gladly dove in and worked like little (no, BIG) turks to get it done. By the end of the week, we had completed reorganizing and storing fully 80 percent of the shipment.

All the while these activities were going on, Dr. Lee was quietly and diligently removing cataracts in the operating room. Monday was a particularly hard day, as the first half a dozen cataracts came out in pieces, rather than simply sliding out whole thru the incision. Things were so tense in the operating room that just before noon Steve gathered the rest of the group together and they prayed fervently for relief for Lee. God must have heard and taken pity on Lee because all his afternoon cases went like clockwork! God is good!!

Dr. Gerard Cascio, a dentist from Beaumont, Texas, came to work with Dr. Silvia. She really gave him a workout, especially in the mobile clinic where he and Dr. Jessica Romano had 56 patients that day. On two of the other days he provided dental checkups for many of the ABC children, for whom it is a requirement that they get semi-annual dental checkups. His dental assistant, Deborah Watson, and daughter, Audrey Edwards, assisted him. Tommy Marshall is a pre-dentistry major at the University of Georgia, so Dr. Cascio let Tommy work with him a good bit during the week. Tommy was thrilled to be a part. He was even permitted to pull some teeth that needed pulling!

We often have patients for whom surgery is not an option, and this week was no exception. One man, who was only in his 50’s, was going blind because of diabetes-related retina damage.
There was nothing Dr. Lee could do. The man, who appeared very fit, was a truck driver, and he immediately became very despondent. He cried as Aby Owens, one of the translators, talked with him. Everyone who witnessed this felt tremendous compassion for him. Dr. Walter made an appointment for him with a retina specialist in the city for him to be evaluated on the outside chance that the specialist might be able to help to him.

What Aby didn’t tell us until the next night was that during her conversation with him, the man indicated to her that he might commit suicide. Out of compassion and without knowing Aby’s concerns, we prayed fervently for him that first night. The next day Aby went on one of the mobile clinics to translate when who should she happen to see but this same man. She was delighted to report he said that after he got home and had time to think about it, he decided that he would do what he needed to do to cope with his condition. She was so relieved because she had worried so much about this man…and his smiling face that day provided proof that he was indeed feeling better.

There was another patient who was only in his 20’s who had a genetically-caused problem that would ultimately result in blindness. The young man seemed to take the news fairly well as Dr. Lee told him that he could not help him, but as Lee talked with the young man, he was aware that the young man’s father sat behind his son listening, with tears streaming down his face.

Fortunately, stories of this type are in the minority because the vast majority of the surgical patients received their sight back! Each morning Dr. Lee would do rounds surrounded by at least a dozen of us eager to see the patients’ reactions when the bandages were removed. Their smiles were as big as their excitement when Lee would hold up fingers and say, “How many can you see?” and they got it right! Such fun to watch. Dr. Lee operated on 44 patients by week’s end.

One man guaranteed his own passing of the test. When Lee said,”How many fingers can you see?”…the man held up two of HIS OWN fingers and said proudly, “TWO!”

Everyone was sad to see the week come to a close. But end it did…and we all returned home feeling fulfilled, and aware that we were leaving pieces of our hearts in Guatemala.