AAMC staff and HELPS International – changing the lives of children and families in South America

AAMC staff and HELPS International – changing the lives of children and families in South America

This February, Lynn Buckingham, R.N., John Avallone, M.D., Walter Scott, S.T., and I arrived in Rio Hondo, Guatemala to spend five days providing surgical care to a needy population. This is now our third medical relief trip with HELPS International, a non-profit organization working in Central America to alleviate poverty by providing services ranging from medical care to agricultural and educational improvement programs.

Our team specializes in providing surgery to children and adults who have strabismus, a medical condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Without surgery, many children and adults face a lifetime of challenges.

A typical day began at 6:30 a.m., when a bus took us from our hotel to the hospital. We started surgery around 8 a.m. and finished around 7 p.m., averaging around eight cases per day. In total, our team performed 38 surgeries during this trip.

We cared for some very special patients. One of them was a beautiful eight year-old girl. Her mother told us she would come home from school crying because the other children made fun of her eyes. She told us that when she learned of our team from a local school teacher, she prayed to God that her daughter would be chosen for surgery and that she would not be sad about going to school anymore. Her daughter received surgery and now has a new chance at life.

Her before and after pictures are below.

Another day we had a special surprise. Twelve years ago, Dr. Avallone and another surgeon on the medical team treated a 16 year-old girl after a severe accident injured her eye and fractured the bones surrounding it. They were able to repair both her eye and the fracture. During this trip, now twelve years later, this woman paid us a visit to thank them for helping her those many years before (right). It was a wonderful moment and a testimony of the impact we as a health care team can have on the lives of our patients, especially for those with little or no access to medical care. 

The team we were working with this year consisted of general and plastic surgeons, primary medical doctors, podiatrists, dentists, and many fantastic nurses. As a whole, we performed 174 surgeries and attended to 1,384 patients in five days. In addition, a construction team traveling with us installed 65 stoves and water filters for families in the surrounding community.

We are humbled that we could go and help the beautiful people of Guatemala. And we’re grateful to those at AAMC who donated and purchased baked goods and jewelry from our annual Christmas bake sale, which helps to financially support our trip. It is truly a privilege to serve our patients, not only in this community but around the globe.

-Stephanie Thompson, RN, BSN and Lynn Buckingham, RN

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