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Faith In Practice

Guatemalan man gets surgery donated from Houston surgeon

Posted on: 12/10/2016

Author: Haley Hernandez

HOUSTON – A man is recovering after an operation he’s needed for 20 years. After numerous unsuccessful surgeries in Guatemala, a local nonprofit helped get the man to Houston for the procedure.

Twenty years ago this week, Juan Alberto Sandoval was hit by a bus in Guatemala.

He said he was hospitalized for three years following the accident, he’s been through countless surgeries for pain, infections and the removal of one leg. More recently, he had a surgery in an effort to save his other leg.

“Mi esperanza es caminar,” Sandoval said, noting that his only wish is to walk one day without a wheelchair.

So in Guatemala, the medical missionary Faith in Practice introduced him to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Parsley of Memorial Hermann Orthopedic & Spine Hospital.

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MIRACLES – Surgery Day 1

Posted on: 04/04/2016

Author: Elizondo, Margaret

This morning we talked about miracles. Do you believe in them or not? I tend to think when you open your heart to others miracles are everywhere. All seventeen surgeries were completed today-I think that was a miracle.

Today there were a few struggles throughout the day that caused surgeries to extend into the evening. I was told this is not that unusual on the first day to have some challenges getting familiar with a new environment and different procedures. Even with careful planning things can go wrong and they often do. It reminded me of something my mom used to tell me when I had difficulties, “every little struggle is a step forward-keep going.” Despite the complications of the day, our OR teams persevered. When a group a people come together with a common goal, miracles do happen.

After a long day, we returned to our hotel and to another delicious meal prepared by Darrick our wonderful FIP cook.


Posted on: 04/05/2016

Author: Elizondo, Margaret

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

We all see in one way or another. But to observe is another matter entirely. We often forget to observe, as our mind is constantly occupied by competing thoughts. When you take the time to observe, your mind is allowed to roam and your thinking becomes expansive. Many things are vastly different from our lives back home. The landscape, the language, the cuisine, the colorful architecture and clothing, and the peaceful nature of the Guatemalans. It’s easy to focus on what is foreign. To observe, is to find the things that are similar. We are all human, breath the same air, walk the same earth. The basic human necessities we take for granted are a daily challenge for the Guatemalans.

Sixteen surgeries were completed today: hips, knees, ankles, feet, and fractures. It is worth noting that a number of these injuries have been afflicting these people for many years, and in some cases, from birth.

Patients from Day One are recovering in Post-Op today. Their strength and resilience is a common characteristic. Many of them are in a great deal of pain, but they push through to do their physical therapy because they need to return to work to provide for their families. These surgeries will drastically improve their quality of life. They are gracious and thank us each time we walk in the room.

CASA DE FE – Surgery Day 3

Posted on: 04/06/2016

Author: Elizondo, Margaret

The landscape is breathtaking from our hotel. Today we can see cloud formations around the volcanoes; sunshine and warm air surrounds us on our walk to the hospital.

While surgeries were underway at Las Obras, a few of us spent the afternoon at Casa de Fe visiting patients who had received surgeries on Monday. Casa de Fe is a guesthouse for patients and their families who travel great distances to receive medical care at Las Obras. While most Americans can move freely from place to place in their own vehicles on nicely paved roads, here most Guatemalans walk or travel on overcrowded buses on bumpy roads. Faith In Practice opened the doors to Casa de Fe to relieve some of the burden of travel before and after surgery. It affords patients additional time to recuperate before their long journey home.

While we were there, we talked with a woman whose husband had shoulder surgery; she told us her husband had been in terrible pain for a long time. They live in Petén, which is about a ten hour trek. She thanked us for coming to help him. She was very appreciative and told us she had faith that FIP doctors could help her husband. She thanked us again. Her gratitude felt misplaced as none of us were doctors. Emotions welled up within and I started to cry. She thanks us again.

Another great day here—fifteen surgeries. I’m looking forward to meeting more patients tomorrow.

WHY WE DO IT – Surgery Day 4

Posted on: 04/07/2016

Author: Elizondo, Margaret

During the morning devotional, Dr. Woolf, asked us to think about what motivates us to volunteer. He implored us to take a little time to reflect on our experiences in Guatemala when we return home. Are we here for purely selfish reasons? Do we help others simply to raise ourselves in the eyes of our peers? Are we here in an attempt to put God in our debt? These motivators, despite being fairly common amongst volunteers, are not sustainable. And yet, many of the volunteers for Faith In Practice have been active members for years (some having even hit the 20 year milestone). There is no monetary motivator or the incentive of a higher status here. Volunteers take precious time away from their families, take time off work (not paid) and must pay their own expenses to be on a team. For many individuals, Faith In Practice represents their love of medicine and why they got into medicine in the first place—to help those in need.

Today was the last day of surgeries for this team. All fifteen went well, and Post-Op patients continue to get stronger with the physical therapists.

Some volunteers spent the morning visiting the disabled children at Las Obras. Our task was to interact with them and comfort them. There was a great deal of trepidation from our small group because we remembered how difficult it was to see the children on the first day. When we arrived, there were forty-three children lined up in their wheelchairs. We weren’t sure what we would be able to do for them. They looked very fragile in their wheelchairs. We started to see a few smiles from the children as we were getting our instructions. We helped the nurses roll the children out into the courtyard for some fresh air. The children clearly like this part of their day. We rifled through a bin of old toys looking for an answer. We decided to use bouncy balls and bubbles. They turned out to be excellent tools. Noelle, one of our volunteers was entertaining at least six children with a very animated bubble show. My daughter was able to comfort a small girl with a song. A bouncing ball also seemed to make them laugh. The morning went by quickly and we were able to connect with a few children. We each agreed–We were very glad we played with the children today.

In our closing celebratory dinner, we took pictures and shared special moments from the week. A few people gave some insight as to why they continue to return to Guatemala each year. We also said goodbye to Carla Walters. She will be retiring after this mission trip. Despite having just met her this week, it was obvious from the sad faces around the table that she will be greatly missed. She was an integral member of the outstanding anesthesiologist team for 20+ years.


Posted on: 04/08/2016

Author: Elizondo, Margaret

“How lucky I am to have know someone who is so difficult to say goodbye to.” ~ author unknown

Today was a much needed rest day for the team. The doctors completed their rounds in the morning, said goodbye to the wonderful Guatemalan staff and patients, and finally split off into groups to relax and spend their final afternoon in Antigua as they pleased. The physical therapists, however, spent the better half of the day working with the recovering patients. This proved to be a wonderful opportunity to speak with the patients and learn their stories.

One patient’s story was particularly impactful; she was only 16 years old. On October 25, 2014, Stivaly Daniela Avalos was on a motorcycle with her sister, brother, and father, when it crashed into a truck head-on while swerving to avoid another vehicle. Her brother and father died instantly. Her sister miraculously escaped the accident with only minor injuries to her tibia, but Stivaly was thrown off the motorcycle and rendered unconscious. But the injuries that led to her surgery this week were yet to occur. While lying unconscious on the road, she was run over several times by passing motorcycles. She was unconscious for fifteen days in the hospital and was relatively unresponsive for the ten days after that; she did not recognize her family and repeatedly asked for her father.

After roughly twenty five days, Stivaly finally recognized her mother. She told her mother and sister that she never wanted them to leave her, and Stivaly promised that she in turn would never leave them.

We saw Stivaly and her mother on triage day, but at that time we were unaware of her story. She stood out to many of us simply because of her young age. She was visibly depressed because the extensive injuries to her knee had left her unable to bend it. Her mother turned to her and told her, “at least you are alive”. With the added context of her heart-wrenching story, this sentiment adopts a new and more profound meaning. As unlucky as Stivaly may appear to be, it is clear that God was watching over her.

Today, I watched her as she walked down the hall (with the assistance of a walker) with a grin on her face. Having perspective is one of the most valuable skills you can possess. It affords you empathy, compassion, and motivation.

In these past four days, over 60+ surgeries have been completed. Each patient has shown remarkable courage pre and post surgery. An amputee greeted his surgeons with a wide smile and positivity. Another man, who had hip surgery yesterday, asked his surgeon if he could return to work today. This mission trip has certainly given us perspective that will stay with us when we return home.

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