Refuge International

Improving lives through healthcare, nutrition, clean water, and education.

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With every trip, we are humbled by the strength and resilience commonly found in the people of Guatemala. In turn, it fuels our drive to continue our mission to improve the living conditions in these remote areas.

It can be said that the act of giving often benefits the giver just as much as the recipient, and sometimes even more so. Time after time, Refuge International volunteers have returned home forever changed by the people they have helped. Here are just a few of our stories.

Christina Kinder and Anna Katherine Cates with a box of suppliesChristina: During the spring break of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel with my parents through Refuge International to the clinic in Chocola, Guatemala. It was easily my most life-changing experience. I have been very interested in pursuing a career in medicine for as long as I can remember, and my parents believed that this would be a great chance to expose me to everything medicine had to offer. The people that participated in the Refuge International program came from diverse backgrounds, and we all joined together to serve the Guatemalan people. The strength of the Guatemalan people was so impressive and inspiring. They would travel three hours by foot to receive treatment, and travel home three hours by foot the day after surgery. I knew I needed to help.

Stephen Mahoney with patientAs a college freshman, I was still pretty clueless about where life would lead me. The guiding force that influenced me towards a career in health care came through my medical mission trips with Refuge International. As an undergrad, I received invaluable experience by participating directly in patient care on my trips to Guatemala. I learned to take blood pressures, start IV’s, and eventually to scrub in and assist with surgery.

“One time we had to go buy a hacksaw to do an amputation.”

Dr. Eveland with a little girlThis is the start of just one of innumerable stories Dr. Ken Eveland, one of our most committed volunteers, loves to share. He goes on to explain that a Guatemalan man had broken his tibia (shin bone) several years earlier, and it had never healed properly. His leg suffered chronic infection, and although the man had been to the Guatemalan National government hospital time and time again to have a much-needed amputation, the surgery was repeatedly postponed by the hospital system. The man showed up at our San Raymundo clinic one day, and by the next, Dr. Eveland and Dr. Jordan Stanley were able to amputate the bad leg.

Katarina with her wooden prosthesisRefuge International volunteers met Katarina for the first time at the Chocolá clinic in 2015. After standing in a long line of patients waiting her turn to see the doctor, Katarina limped to our exam table and lifted her skirt to reveal a beautifully carved wooden leg, extremely worn and cracked from years of use. When Katarina was a young teen, she was in a car accident and subsequently lost her leg to gangrene. Now in her late 20s, her homemade leg had become extremely painful to use due to its significant weight and repairs that were made with wires and metal plates, which consequently rubbed on her leg stump. In order to seat her leg into the wooden prosthetic, Katarina used a belt, wrapped tightly around the stump, then fed through a hole drilled into the wood. She pulled for all she was worth to fit her stump into the socket.

ElenaIn September 2014, 6-year-old Elena Cocom walked into our clinic in Chocolá with a mass the size of a baseball above her right eye. Six months prior, Elena’s father, Domingo, discovered a shallow scrape on his daughter's forehead and dismissed it as a typical wound for a normal, active girl. Their village doctor prescribed mild pain medicine and believed it was an infection that would eventually heal. Over the course of two months, Elena’s scrape grew into a rigid mass that began encroaching on her eyesight and Domingo knew it was time to seek out another medical evaluation for Elena. Domingo, who speaks very little Spanish, had heard of the work Dr. Castillo and Refuge were doing in Chocolá and the family traveled two hours by foot from their rural village to reach the clinic.

Angel Hernandez-TorresDespite prior surgical procedures, Angel Hernandez-Torres had two large cysts on his legs that had grown back for a third time. So once again, Angel went to his local hospital to have them removed. He handed the clerk his money, took a seat in the waiting room and waited. And waited some more. He waited until he was told to go home; no money was returned and no operation was performed. That's how it sometimes goes in a national system that is overburdened and under-funded.