Jan. 25, 2023 (Florence) - A local surgical team is planning to travel to Guatemala in hopes to provide medical care to people in Guatemala, where they plan to perform and document upwards of 60 surgeries in the span of three days.
“It is humbling to see the number of people who need care,” said operating room nurse Joe Brinkman. “Since we are there for such a short period of time, some patients unfortunately have to be turned away. But even then, despite the language barrier, you can see by their smiles how grateful the patients are to receive care.”
The team, which consists of an ER physician, an operating room nurse, a surgical technologist and a photographer and blogger, is hoping to raise $20,000 for the self-funded trip.
“I’ve always wanted to go on a mission, but I had young children and couldn’t go,” said surgical technician Kara Alford, who accompanied the team last year, led by local surgeon Dr. Jordan Raymer. “I was a little afraid to go on missions because I didn’t know what it was like.”
It wasn’t easy, with the team staying in a gated compound five hours out of Guatemala City.
Medical clinics throughout the area identify surgery needs and set up appointments for the patients to meet with the surgical team.
Brinkman stated the surgery facility is minimalistic, “and how every single supply is used and re-sterilized is amazing - This practice of re-use would not be allowed in the U.S.”
Sometimes patients walk for more than a day to arrive with their families for the procedures.
“A lot of these people don’t have anything - they make maybe one-to-two dollars a day,” Alford said. “They live in shacks, and they sometimes have to wait for ten years to have something fixed that can be done in a thirty minute procedure. You’re able to give them back their life that they have missed out on because their ailment hindered them in taking care of their family. … You see how hard they’ve worked for so little.”
Due to health reasons, this will most likely be the last year Alford attends the mission.
“But it’s something I need to do,” she said. “I love my job here, and it’s such a heartwarming reward to be able to pay back to my community in the medical field. To go down to Guatemala was such an eye opening experience, I brought it back with me. Doing that made me even love my job even more, helping people that are so thankful.”
The trips are planned through the ecumenical Christian nonprofit Faith in Practice, which provides various medical services to the citizens of Guatemala. While the Florence team has been gathering supplies for the trip throughout the year, there are still donations to afford the trip by mid-February.
“The commitment to do this trip is huge,” said Brinkman. “We are responsible for paying for our own travel including hotel, flight and food in addition to any fees associated with being a part of Faith in Practice. We also do not receive our salaries and use our own accrued time off to participate. But the rewards are so gratifying and humbling.”
Tax-deductible donations can be made through Cross Road Assembly Church, which has agreed to be the financial sponsor for the trip. Donations can be made out to Cross Road Assembly, and either dropped off or mailed to Cross Road Assembly Church at 1380 10th St., Florence, earmarked for the Guatemala trip.
“The biggest reward is the gratitude shown to us by the patients we serve. We truly are the difference between helping the patients return to a productive life,” said Brinkman. “Sometimes our procedures are the difference between life and death.”
Questions can be directed to Brinkman at 218-791-8432 or Kay King at 541-997-2248.