Hundreds of people lined up by 8 in the morning, waiting to be treated. Long, 12- to 16- hour shifts. Ninety-three life changing surgeries in five emotional days.
Such was the life of 17 UT Health San Antonio surgeons, anesthesiologists, residents, scrub techs and nurses who traveled to Huehuetenango, Guatemala, in late July to provide medical care to the indigenous community.
The group, led by Jason Kempenich, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, went to Central America under the auspices of HELPS International, a nonprofit relief organization working in agriculture, education, community development and health care in Guatemala.
“There were overwhelming moments of compassion, sadness, empathy and reward,” said Paulina Cardenas, M.D., assistant professor/clinical in anesthesiology. “There were times when I wanted to stop and cry because someone was so grateful or cry because someone was so deprived of basic care. But there was no time to stop.”
Over the course of five days, 93 operations were completed, including cholecystectomies, hernia repairs, cleft lips and palate. Many of the patients had to travel for eight or more hours to reach the military base where the medical care was centered.
It was the first medical mission trip for Mallory Wampler, M.D., a general surgery resident. “It was awesome to see how much the OR staff, nurses and physicians all worked together to complete all the surgeries for the day,” she said. “The patients and their families were so grateful for the care.”
Michael Falk, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, called the trip a humbling experience.
“Making a difference in improving the lives of people who have no hope really does change a person,” Falk said.