Dr. Annabelle Lopez is active with the organization HIMM, Healing International Medical Mission. She is part of a team that travels to different countries, including Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, to provide medical services to underserved populations. Their recent trip to Santa Elena del Quiche of Guatemala is a tale worth sharing to tell of the impact this organization is making in positively changing lives through medical intervention. Each volunteer pays out of pocket to cover their travel and accommodations expenses. Because of an area airport strike, the Valley group rented a van to drive to Corpus Christi and then flew into Dallas. There, they met the other travelers at DFW Airport and then flew on to Guatemala City. They landed in Guatemala with 18 large bags full of medical supplies, including gloves and sutures, most of which has been donated by local hospitals and agencies.
The first night was spent in Guatemala City, and they journeyed on to Santa Elena del Quiche in a private mini bus early the next morning. They drove four hours through the mountains surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Santa Elena del Quiche is a small town 7,000 feet above see level and is mainly inhabited by Mayans. Different dialects are spoken there, including the main language of Quiche. Santa Elena del Quiche does have a local hospital, and HIMM has built a home on the property called “Agape,” which means “love.” This labor of love is run by two Americans who currently live in that home: Dr. Street, a retired Anesthesiologist, and his wife. The home has a large, multipurpose central room for meals, along with six rooms to host missionaries and medical volunteers. Each room has two bunk beds and its own bathroom with hot running water. The property surrounding it has two beautiful gardens that thrive in consistent 65 degree temperatures.
The first day at the hospital, Dr. Padilla cautioned the group that they needed to “turn off their ‘American doctor’ switch” and instead think with a Third World mentality and use their clinical skills to best tend to the needs of the local people. He also shared that whatever test or instrument they were used to that was not available was just no longer needed. Everyone there needed to find a place and a purpose. And that purpose was to work with the more than 300 patients at the clinic that were waiting for the much-anticipated “American doctors.” Many patients had traveled great distances with their families in order to be seen by these renowned healers. These American doctors working in foreign circumstances had to improvise while seeing as many patients as possible, all the while in exams room that lacked everything from light to clean sheets. Patients were diagnosed using the doctors’ and nurses’ best clinical judgment without CT scans, sonograms, or complex tests. Meanwhile, the rest of the group was preparing the operating rooms and familiarizing themselves with the facilities. There are not enough full time doctors available at the hospital to meet the needs of the population. Additionally, they do not have adequate supplies, right down to the most simple instruments, to perform many procedures.
The first surgeries were performed on their first full day there, and in between cases, the volunteers would go to the clinic to see more patients. Everyone found their role, even those with no medical background. There were other needs, like talking to the family members who were anxiously waiting on news of their relatives, bringing patients to the operating room, making trips to the pharmacy for medication, and soothing small children who were waiting their turn for surgery. Mr. Alanize was in charge of organizing the OR schedule. Pastor Gonzalez assisted the anesthesiologist. The first year medical student was trained straight away to be a surgical technician and pass the instruments during surgery. The youngest team members worked very hard cleaning and sterilizing the instruments. Each day would start with a hearty breakfast, for they were working 12 and 13 hour days with only short stops for a quick meal. Each night, they would return to the home for a hot shower and dinner cooked by the locals before turning in for a short night’s rest. By the end of their journey, this hardworking group of volunteers has performed an amazing 72 surgeries in just four days. “We worked long days, but we all wanted to keep working. Our hearts were so full of love, and we just wanted to help as many patients as possible. The people of Quiche were so grateful. They kept saying ‘thank you, thank you,’ shares Dr. Lopez. The people of Quiche were very invested in the time this American team spent in their midst. The family members would even sleep outside under the trees, waiting for their relative to have surgery and then be discharged so they could make the journey home. The team took an abundance of toys to share with the local children, which delighted them.
“We all came back feeling a lot more humble and grateful for what we have. I personally gained a lot more than what I gave. I learned that my problems are very small in comparison to most of the problems of the people in the rest of the world. Now I look at things differently, and I try not to stress out that much. We went as 19 strangers and came back as 19 friends that worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help the people from Quiche, Guatemala,” expresses Dr. Lopez.
HIMM is planning to do it again. They are currently evaluating other locations to travel to as well. Immediately, they are trying to assist the midwives of Quiche, as they are in need of pain medications, newborn clothing, gloves, gauze, prenatal vitamins, and supplies of the like. Donations for their efforts are beyond appreciated.
Dr. Annabelle Lopez shared a story about a starfish that she relates to the frustration of not being able to help every single person in need, and yet it expresses her willingness to continue to strive for more:
“There was a man on the beach that was picking up starfish and placing them back in the ocean. Another man approached him, asking ‘don’t you think you are wasting your time? Look how many starfish are on the shore! Perhaps millions, and there is no way you are going to be able to get to all of them in time. It’s not worth it.’ The first man picked up another starfish, placed it in the sea, and replied, ‘for that one, it was worth it.’”
Healing International Medical Mission is changing lives through their dedicated efforts and willingness to travel great distances to impact those without the medical assistance we can so easily take for granted here in the United States. For the gifted volunteers of HIMM, their talents and hearts reach far beyond our borders.
Dr Padilla is a neurosurgeon from the Rio Grande Valley and is the travel organizer for our area. Each trip sets out with about 20 volunteers who embark on an adventure as well as a life-saving mission. The Santa Elena del Quiche trip included:
Dr. Annabelle Lopez, OB/GYN and Cosmetic Surgeon
Dr. Marco Araneda, Hematologist and Oncologist
Dr. Carlos Dejuana, Urologist
Dr. Juan Padilla, Neurosurgeon
Berta Reyes, Dr. Lopez’s mother
James Chase, Nurse
Shannon Palmos, Nurse
Rosie Moreno, Nurse
Christina Dejuana, Nurse and wife of Dr Dejuana
Bobby Palmos, high school student and son of Nurse Palmos
Rick Contreras, Surgical Technician
Frank Alanize, Pharmaceutical Rep
Miguel Gonzalez, Pastor
Dr. Wilson Velazquez, Anesthesiologist from Corpus Christi
A team from Michigan:
Dr. Dale McCririe, General Surgeon
Paige McCririe, Dr. McCririe’s daughter and recent high school graduate
Breanda Rathbun, Nurse
Judith Shamplo, Nurse
Jerry Sojan, First Year Medical Student