An accounting of the June 22nd – 28th 2008 trip
as told by Dr. John Kelley
Just a note to thank you for the support you gave my recent surgical mission to Honduras. Your prayers were appreciated by all. And, all of your donations were put to good use providing care for the poorest of the poor in Comayagua, Honduras. Let me share with you a couple of the highlights of our June mission.
Honduras is the second poorest country in the western Hemisphere. The need for good medical and surgical care is huge. There is a public health system in the country- it costs 2 Limpera to see a physician and 2 Limpera to get medications from the public system (a Limpera is about nickel). However, the patients we served at Saint Benedict Joseph Medical Center were so poor that they could not afford to see a doctor or purchase medications. Last week I joined a group of 4 surgeons, 1 anesthesiologist, 4 nurse anesthetists, 2 dentists, 9 nurses, and 6 surgical scrub tech’s and support staff to provide free surgeries to these patients. Our surgical brigade was to help the physicians who run an ongoing free clinic and peri-natal program at the hospital –www.cfrhonduras.com/sbj
I, personally, did about 30 procedures- (mostly knee arthroscopy, tendon lengthening in kids, and hand surgery). The other specialty surgeries we performed were plastic surgery (mostly for cleft palate), eye surgery (mostly for cataracts), and podiatry(mostly for club feet). Together we did about 100 surgical procedures and the two dentists (Dr. George Coletti and his wife Susan, from Stone Mountain, were on our team) must have done several hundred dental cases.
When thinking of specific stories about this mission, I guess I would start with the guiding philosophy Light of the World Charities, www.lightoftheworldcharities.com (who organize the 7 surgical brigades going to Honduras this year) – “As you do for the least of these, – you do for me”. They have built a beautiful hospital in the roughest and poorest neighborhood in Comayagua which is served by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (they are like Mother Theresa in that they live with and serve the poorest of the poor) www.cfrhonduras.com where every patient is treated with respect and dignity. If Christ himself were to return to Honduras and need surgery- he would want to have it done at Saint Benedict Joseph Medical Center.
Our patients were beautiful, humble, appreciative, and very trusting- I do believe is it possible to see the face of Christ in the poor- and I had this experience many times serving in Honduras. Here are two highlights of the trip.
One highlight was being able to provide care for a 15 year old boy with a severe cleft lip and palate. This young man spent the night before surgery with the team at the retreat house- at first glance it was almost painful to look at the deformity caused by the two defects in his palate and lip extending through the upper part of his mouth into each nostril. We remember being a teenager and being so concerned about our appearance- none of us could imagine being a teenager having to live with what this young man faced everyday. He seemed and acted very much older than his age- I would have guessed him at about 45 years old at first glance. His surgery was long and difficult- but after staying the night in the hospital he returned to the retreat center and looked like a young man for the first time in his life. The plastic surgeon plans to return next year and do some final reconstructive work on this young man’s nose- giving him the gift every teenager seems to want- to look normal.
The second most memorable part of our trip had to do with the spiritual gift of courage and peace that Christ showed to our patients during our surgical mission. My parish had printed “holy cards” with the Our Lady of Guadalupe’s picture (the patron saint of the Americas) on one side; and the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary Prayer printed in Spanish on the other side. In the pre-op holding area, one of our 5 year old patients was frightened, crying and inconsolable. The nurse, looking for something to distract the child, finally gave him one of the Holy Cards- he looked at the picture and recognized Our Lady and started saying the Hail Mary. As it happened, this was the only prayer in Spanish the nurse knew, so she prayed it with the child. He immediately calmed down- waited patiently for his surgery, went to sleep without any problems, and did well after his surgery.
For me, as a Catholic, it was a reminder that when we need a mother (mine is in Heaven now) – Our Lady will always be there for us; and, as a Christian that “the Peace of Christ” is a real and palpable gift from the Holy Spirit we can receive in times of need. After this event all my patients came into the operating room holding this Holy card. They held them during their surgery, and afterwards our nurse (a wonderful Methodist woman of oriental background) would tape Our Lady to the patient’s gown before returning them to the recovery room. If Christ can provide peace and comfort to the simple Hondurans who are facing the frightening prospect of surgery, it reminds us that in our times of stress we need to turn to Him for these same gifts he can give us.
One of the Friars, Father Herald Brock, shared with us these insights:
12 Spiritual Advantages for Serving the Poor
- By serving the poor we will feel close to Jesus and experience His presence.
- By serving the poor we will learn something about the Kingdom of God that belongs to the poor in a special way and will cause us to wonder.
- By serving the poor we will see words and events from the Gospel leap off the page and come to life before our very eyes.
- By serving the poor we will learn to distinguish a true need from a false need and a real crisis from an artificial crisis.
- By serving the poor we will be humbled, perplexed, and at times, exasperated.
- By serving the poor we will be come free from the worship of efficiency.
- By serving the poor we will learn how selfish we are and we will confront our selfishness and the limits of our generosity.
- By serving the poor we will come to hunger and thirst for justice.
- By serving the poor our hearts will be broken open.
- By serving the poor we will be forced to confront inescapably the realities and questions of life.
- By serving the poor we will discover JOY
- By serving the poor we will have friends and advocates in the kingdom of heaven.
Each time I return to Honduras I experience more of these spiritual advantages. Thanks for your prayers and support. When you are invited to go on a mission, I would urge you to go to experience these advantages first hand. If you have friends and family who ask for your prayers or support for their missions, be generous.
A special treat for me this mission was my parish had their annual family parish mission to the same community in Honduras the same week. Marcia and Kate, along with 42 other missionaries, ran vacation bible school for a girl’s orphanage, and a school for handicapped and deaf children. Another team did a work project at a boy’s orphanage. It was a real blessing to be able to worship and serve with my family and parish.
Peace of Christ,
Dr. John Kelley