We take our filled hearts and heads home from Oliveros

Jan 21, 2016

By Laura Sumner Coon

After a five-day clinic, most of the 47 people on this mission will return home changed by the experience. On Wednesday, some of us will go home, some will travel for sight-seeing in Antigua. In either case, we will not be the same.

Here are some of the memories we will pack in our hearts and heads to take home.

Sandy Hoffmann, dentistry: “I was told we were angels sent from heaven by a couple of patients.”

Paula McNiel, DNP, nutrition education: “William, four years old, arrived to the clinic on his mother’s back. Due to a lack of oxygen at birth (the hospital lost electricity), William has significant brain damage, flaccid limbs and spastic movement, but a wonderful smile. He is fed by a bottle or sippy cup. We helped refer him to Flory to take care of the tooth roots still in his mouth (all were rotted), and talked to his mom about what to feed him and how to get her help. Flory will help him get a wheelchair, but more important, will connect mom to resources to care for him when she is no longer able.”

Rodrigo Rubio, dental triage, a native Guatemalan who joined the mission as interpreter: “I have to be grateful to God to have me be born here and able to help others with everything that I could. I hope I will get another chance to keep doing this.”

Jan Lehman, triage: “I was amazed by the infinite patience and gracious nature of the people we served. The children are the most beautiful and best behaved kids I have encountered as a pediatric nurse. Meeting this group of volunteers was also a stunning experience. The ideas, the good will, and the many years of hard work and service that this group has is so impressive and motivating.”

Scott Arbit, dentist: “My week has been a fabulous and rich opportunity to work with a compassionate, talented and dedicated team of individuals to serve a wonderful and appreciative group. I look forward to serving with everyone again next year.”

Arabia Vargas, general medicine: “The children of Guatemala are precious, and the parents are brave and doing the best they can with what they have. Sometimes they have very little. What lovely people! We all should be grateful for the bounty in the U.S.”

Samantha Maier, vision: “The best part of this experience was putting glasses on an older man’s face and watching his eyes light up when he looked around the room and could see clearly again after many years of horrible vision.”

Janet Whelan, M.D., medical: “Que Dios la bendiga!” Every day, I have been blessed by the people I have seen as they leave. Such grace and kindness! I feel truly blessed and blessed again to do the work I love.”

Brian Jensen, pharmacist: “As with many people working on this mission, I have experienced many examples of selfless service to each other and the people we serve. My story involves our closing the clinic. I met with the local nurse who manages the weekly “clinic” across the road from the school. She is the local connection to an underfunded healthcare system, working five days a week out of a cinder block structure. I assessed her security and commitment to the Oliveros community, and came away impressed. Our extra meds and supplies will double her ability to meet the local needs and extend our impact into the future…months for the amount of medication we have left. When received, she stated: “May God bless you.” Indeed, I was!”

Judy Sperling-Newton, nutrition: “I was struck by two families who were so poor they could barely afford food, but we’re trying to put together the $12 it cost for school supplies for their children.”

Jeannine Desautels, triage: “The most edifying moment of this mission was when an 11-year-old, serious boy showed up in triage to see the doctor. He was alone and had walked for three hours to get there in the heat of the day.”

Becca Boppre, floater: “My favorite thing about this year, was seeing the local kids. Despite having so little, they are so cheerful, loving and helpful. They always say, “Hi,” have a hug or a smile for us. The relationships we develop from year to year stay with me, and I am always excited to return and see them again, see how they have grown. Sebastian, 10, reminds me of my kids. I call Sebastian, “mi mono,” “my monkey,” and his personality fits that perfectly. He always smiles when I call him that and gives me a big hug. I am leaving this year with more memories of kids, having gotten hugs, smiles and even some hand-drawn pictures from them.”

Amy Bangart, pharmacy: “The pharmacy is the hub of activity. All the basic office and clinic supplies are stored there, and it can become very congested quickly. To keep it a little better controlled  and to avoid any errors in dispensing our medications, we ask patients to wait outside. Near the end of the day, a woman and her son came to the clinic after receiving her meds. We asked her politely to step outside, but she came in only to kiss our cheek and bless and thank us, which was followed by her 10-year-old son in the same fashion. While we were trying to keep order in our space, she restored order to our hearts and minds with this simple and kind gesture. It left an impression on me that brought tears to my eyes.”

J.J. Bell, vision: “I learned not to take for granted e convenience of obtaining necessary optical services.”

Allison Hardin, physician assistant, medical: “My greatest moment this year was referring a patient with a large, patent ductus arteriosus  and atrial septal defect to Obras Sociales for cardio thoracic surgery. And of course, I love spending time with the kids of Oliveros. We had a water balloon fight, played pato, pato, pollo (duck,duck, goose) and danced the night away to marimba. We played lots of Uno and Jenga, and made lots of jewelry. I love seeing the smiling faces!”

Julie Bailey, vision: “Working with a fun, compassionate team that smoothly evaluates the young and the old, and finding creative ways to communicate with patients so that we could offer the correct visible support necessary to facilitate our patients’ capacity to read or to see were the highlights of my experience. The trip to Hawaii Beach was great.”

Sara Marquardt, dental triage: “The experience from the GMRP is pretty remarkable. The thing that appears to impact me the most is all of the inspiring team members around me; the beautiful personalities and dedicated hearts. I seem to take a little piece of everyone I meet home with me. I’m also extremely thankful for all of the people involved in all of the ‘behind the scenes’ work to make the clinic happen. All of the leaders and organizers are truly one-of-a-kind people. So thank you for your passion. The Guatemalan people and landscape are, o course, irreplaceable and the best part of the mission, but my fellow team members are my biggest take-away. I wish you all the best and hope to see you again.”

Eunice Gibson, pharmacy: “I was impressed by the knowledge, professionalism, organization and kindness of Brian Jensen.”

Tabbitha Downey, MD, medical: “It’s important to do what you can with what you have. People make due with very little. But even with a very little, a lot can be done if there is determination and desire.”

Aleigha Bangart, dental: “A 15-year-old son came in to hold dental spots for his family. He continued to offer his spot to his family members to ensure they were all seen. He came back over several days, and in the end, his whole family was seen, but he had to sacrifice his final spot for himself because of an electricity issue we had. He was very understanding and said he would return on the first day next year.”

Pam Hansen, vision: “One of my best memories is of an older gentleman who came in for glasses. As we were trying to fit him, he said one eye was blurry. We called a doctor, and found he had a cataract and will have surgery.”

Kate Filla, dental: “I had such an amazing experience – better than I ever could have imagined! I worked in dental with no previous experience. But, Dr. Mark McNiel was such a great teacher that I felt very comfortable and was able to do more things Than I ever thought possible. I formed very strong relationships with the dental assistant, Courtney Rothe, and Hygienist Sandy Hoffmann, and am so grateful for that! I also had the privilege of working with Bruce Newton. He translated for dental, but it was more than  just translation. He connects with the patients so they would feel comfortable and held their hands when they were scared. I am truly impressed with how he was able to communicate with them.”

Floridalma Quintanilla, continuing care coordinator: “Un agradiciemiento a Dios por conocerles y equipo de trabajo gracias por us gran amor al protecto que ha formado en ayuda almas nececitados. Ustedes son las buenos Samaritanos ayudan a curar sus heridas y enfermedado a nuestra pacientes. Gracias por mi medicina que dan para todo el ano.”

Laura Sumner Coon, central desk: “So many ailing, older people endured their physical pain, made a sometimes long and hazardous walk to the clinic, and lingered for hours and even days in searing heat — all with a quiet reserve and dignity that is very seldom seen in the United States. While most people may believe that it is we who are helping the people of Guatemala, every day I witnessed many lessons without words that they were imparting to us. I leave this place with a great love and regard for them all, and pray that God opens our hearts to absorb the wisdom that those who live this very trying but simple life have to give to those of us from “developed” countries.”

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