As part of an ongoing commitment to the health care of children in Guatemala, Vanderbilt Medical Center once again organized a surgical trip to Guatemala City in 2008. The trip, which took place September 27-October 4, was in conjunction with the Shalom Foundation. Our primary focus was ENT, including cleft lip and palate repairs.
The team from the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital was comprised of ENT surgeons, anesthesia providers and OR/PACU perioperative nurses and scrub technicians. The group worked tirelessly the entire week setting up operative suites, screening patients, and providing excellent perioperative care to children who would otherwise not receive such care.
Anyone who has ever worked in healthcare can understand the challenges of delivering quality care. These are compounded with such limited resources in Guatemala. From carrying large crates from Nashville filled with supplies, to repairing anesthesia machines mid-day, to even going to a remote hospital with a patient to view a pathology tissue specimen, there were no obstacles this team faced with a thought of, “We can’t.” We were rewarded time and again when families who traveled by foot for three days or who farmed their own food offered gifts for taking care of their children. It is a reminder of not only the infinite giving capacity of the human spirit, but also a reminder of the need to be thankful for the opportunities we have here at home.
The trip was also unique this year as it provided a glimpse into the lives of our patients. The team had the opportunity to visit the local school where the Shalom Foundation provides volunteer education for kindergarten through twelfth grade. We also saw the poor living conditions that many of these people endure. Finally, we toured the medical center which Vanderbilt is committed to establishing in the community. This center will provide medical and surgical care to women and children. It establishes a continuum within the community through which we can provide steady medical care in coordination with local physicians. This highlights the future goals of building the center, educating the community on health issues, and providing sustainable health care to this underserved population.
During this difficult economic time, it is truly a testament to the dedication of Vanderbilt and its staff to give unconditionally to families thousands of miles away. More importantly, we are reminded of just how fortunate we are in the United States of America. I am proud to have worked with our group and look forward to returning soon to continue this much-needed work.
Dr. Chris Lemelle