Now that vaccines are more readily available and the world begins to emerge from the Covid pandemic, Partner for Surgery is seeing a return to normalcy, as well. In January and February 2022, we were able to hold two consecutive rural medical missions to identify patients for upcoming surgical missions as surgical teams are able to return to Guatemala this year.
Prior to January 2022, Partner for Surgery’s last rural medical mission was on February 24, 2020, just before everything stopped due to the Covid pandemic. We were finally able to welcome volunteers from the U.S. and Canada from January 22-29, 2022, for our first rural mission in 23 months.
Almost immediately after it ended, we held our second rural mission (February 2-9). These rural triage missions reflect our confidence that the 11 confirmed surgical teams (as well as those planning to confirm) will be in need of full weeks of patients. The Covid concern is still there, but lessened, and we, our patients and volunteers, the hospitals, and the Guatemalan Health Ministry have all learned to adapt. We are hopeful about the future!
Our first surgical team of the year arrived from Los Angeles at the end of February, specifically for head and neck masses. One of their first patients was a man named Sebastian who traveled for 6 hours to be at the January rural mission location. For four years he watched his benign tumor grow and had no options for surgery until he heard of our mission. He told the rural mission team that he is anxious to tell the others in his community that they have an opportunity for surgery through Partner for Surgery and ACPC.
Another patient who will finally receive surgery this year is Sergio. He was two months old when his mother brought him to our February 2020 rural mission, but he was too young then to have his webbed fingers separated. His mother had heard of our mission from a nurse in the local healthcare center, which is how many of our patients learn about our efforts. She waited and returned when she learned of our rural mission this past February. Her son’s hand is scheduled for surgical repair in October with one of the Broken Earth teams from Canada.
Many people in rural Guatemala have no experience with surgical care and are apprehensive about procedures. For that reason, years go by and their conditions become almost incapacitating. That was the situation with Teodora, who has been dedicated to caring for her family and has had an anterior vaginal prolapse for 15 years. It was women in her rural village who finally convinced Teodora to come to our rural mission in January. These neighbors previously had surgery through Partner for Surgery and told Teodora that it was not as painful as they thought it would be. Now she is scheduled with a Broken Earth team in September. She shared that feels very happy because she is doing something for herself and is thankful for the opportunity provided by Partner for Surgery, as well as for the care and understanding she needed to overcome her fears.
The January and February 2022 rural medical missions evaluated a total of 496 individuals, 74% of whom were identified for surgery. This very high percentage reflects the hard work of our local health promoters and the broad understanding that rural community members have about our mission.
Another influencing factor is that all the patients had to show their vaccination card. For those not vaccinated against Covid, the health center had the vaccine available.
Separate from those with potential surgical needs were the 240 women who participated in the cervical and breast screening to prevent cancer. All of these mission activities were possible because of our close collaboration with the staff of the local government health centers.
Some patients have been waiting for more than two years for their surgical procedures. We were able to take care of them in the interim because of contributions from our generous donors. All donations make a difference in the lives of rural Guatemalans.