They fundraise, gather healthcare supplies and use personal vacation time so they can offer free medical services to Ecuadorians in need.
Each year a group of surgeons, nurses and other staff from the Misericordia Community Hospital travel to Quito, the nation’s capital, to perform life-changing orthopedic surgeries.
“Part of the reason we’re in health care is to be available to people who truly need help or who have no means of getting a particular medical expertise or skill,” says Dr. Paulose Paul, Orthopedic Surgeon at the Misericordia hospital.
Take the case of Jaime, 31, an aspiring doctor from the countryside whose dreams were cut short almost two years ago after a mountain bike accident left him paraplegic and unable to sit. A bone mass formed around his hips, causing pain that confined him to bed.
“There was no doctor in Ecuador who had the expertise to do the surgery and was willing to take the risk. I had done that type of surgery a few times in the past, so we were able to help him,” says Paulose, who specializes in knee and hip replacements and treating certain types of bone and muscle cancers.
Jaime is now pain-free and is able to sit and move around in a wheelchair, says Paulose.
Jaime is among the roughly 60 beneficiaries of the orthopedic surgeries that happen for two weeks each year at Padre Corollo Hospital, says Deb Chalupa, an Orthopedic Unit Manager at the Misericordia who serves as lead nurse for the medical mission. The hospital is run by Fundacion Tierra Nueva (New Earth Foundation), a Catholic organization.
“There are many who apply and yet we can only serve a certain number of patients every year. And we prioritize those who really need help and can benefit from the surgery,” says Deb.
Whether they are performing hip replacements or fixing kids’ clubbed feet so they can play soccer, the medical team tries to help people who will benefit the most from surgery, says Francisco Gallardo, a Misericordia Healthcare Aide and the mission’s logistics co-ordinator and lead medical translator.
“The patients see us as their last hope because they don’t have the money for the surgery. We try to aim for the younger patients or a parent who can become productive again and support their family. These are just some of the things that we consider to make the biggest impact,” says Francisco. A social worker conducts interviews and helps screen hundreds of patient applications. The final decision rests with the volunteer doctors after conferring with the hospital medical staff.
Seeing patients walk for the first time or hearing people share how surgery has given them a second chance in life means a lot to Cheryl Holt and Erica Nelson, two Misericordia nurses who volunteered this year.
“There are many tears of joy. They thank you the whole time. It’s really very inspiring,” says Cheryl.
Every year the patients come back to see the volunteers, some bringing produce and treats. And some former patients serve as translators during the mission at the hospital.
“Knowing that you made a difference in their lives is really rewarding. This was their last chance and it meant everything to them,” says Erica.
Cheryl and Erica agree that the experience has been life-changing and transformative for the team. They come home feeling inspired and energized about their profession and their work in Edmonton.
For Deb and Francisco, the experience is humbling and makes them feel grateful that they can help others. They also note this shared experience means the Misericordia volunteers have become closer as friends and colleagues.
For Paulose, who plans to join the mission trip again next year, the experience has been very moving. “It is almost like hitting the recharge button on your healthcare battery. It really refreshes you, and you come back with a positive outlook about what you do.”
For the past 18 years, the medical mission trip has been organized and managed by the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad (CAMTA) based in Edmonton. CAMTA sends a team of about 100 medical volunteers (surgeons, nurses and translators, among others). Most of the volunteers are from Edmonton, with 10 representing the Misericordia hospital in 2019.
CAMTA screens the volunteer applications and those accepted are expected to raise funds for the trip and help gather medical supplies for the mission. CAMTA takes care of all flight and accommodations so the volunteers can focus on the medical work.
The other Misericordia employees who joined the 2019 mission trip include Anesthesiologist Dr. Kevin Gregg, Registered Nurse Madison Lakey, Dr. Alex Gessner, Respiratory Therapist Scott Buchanan and Bonnie Cluney, who is a clerk at the hospital.
Have a story to share about health care? An idea for an article? We value all contributions.