Eye-Opening Experience: My Medical Mission to Guatemala
By Annette Chang Sims, MD
Earlier this year I was asked to join a medical mission team planning a trip to Guatemala. I jumped at the opportunity, as this would be my first medical mission. I traveled with approximately 20 other physicians with different specialties and was accompanied by Maggie Carlson, RN, from Oregon Eye Surgery Center, Karen Kurashige, RN, from PeaceHealth Riverbend hospital, and Lisa Duiker, COT, from our clinic.
We flew into Guatemala City bringing our own medications, surgical instruments and corneal tissue for transplants. Most of the supplies we brought with us were donated by our industry partners in the United States. We were happy to get through customs and immigration without any trouble.
The next morning, we took a 6-hour bus ride north into the mountains to a small town called Nuevo Progreso. This area of Guatemala faces poverty, disease, lack of medical resources and malnutrition. While many patients spoke Spanish, some only spoke indigenous languages. The hospital in town, Hospital de la Familia, provides a variety of healthcare services to patients who travel from Mexico and other parts of Guatemala. The patients are charged on a sliding scale based on their income and are never turned away for an inability to pay. Early in the morning, the waiting rooms and roads were already filled with patients waiting to be seen. We operated ten to twelve hours each day. On the first day we saw fifty consultations for corneal transplants. We only brought six corneas.
There is much more to the story. Please stay tuned as I will tell you more about my Guatemalan adventures in my next blog post.