Introduction by Carmen Gramajo-Moser
For the last nine years, one thing has been a guarantee for Dr. Tun, the hospital, Medical Missions Foundation, and San Lucas: Dr. John Alley will be your surgeon.
For those of us who know him, we know that Guatemala has become his second home. I personally believe that his heart was stolen by this little girl Sucely; he operated on her cystic hygroma during our first trip and has followed up every year since then. Sucely is the same age as his daughter Caroline, both are 12 years old now.
I’ve asked him to share with us why San Lucas is so special. He has met and helped many people over the years and has performed at least 800 surgeries – what is it about the people of San Lucas that stole his heart?
This is what he had to say:
“John,” Dr. Girod said, “I work with a group called Medical Missions Foundation. We go on missions around the world and provide surgical care to people that have no other access. We have a new mission planned for a small town in Guatemala called San Lucas Toliman. I need a general surgeon and was wondering if you might be interested?”
That was the conversation in the Fall of 2009 that first brought me to SLT in the Spring of 2010. We loaded containers and shipped an “operating” room to SLT. When we first arrived, we met the man that has become like family, Dr. Tun. He is the local physician in SLT and oversees all of the healthcare for the people. Our team was truly amazing, and in 2 days we turned an empty room into a fully functioning OR. Patients that were carefully screened and selected by Dr. Tun began to arrive. Over the following 4 ½ days, we gave our best and treated the people of SLT, people that otherwise would never have had a chance to know that they could feel better and get healthy. Although they received the health care, we were the ones that were blessed.
At home, where cutting-edge medical care is the standard and people seem to view it as a “right,” our jobs are rewarding because we help them, but in SLT we were truly blessed because these people didn’t even know they could get better.
That first trip was amazing! From fixing hernias that allowed men to go back to work and be able to support their families again, to removing an 8-inch long worm from a young woman’s bile duct and taking away her sickness and pain – this is what the practice of medicine is supposed to be. The opportunity to use your knowledge and skills to end suffering and pain.
I won’t even go into the volcanic eruption or the hurricanes, those are stories for another time; but suffice it to say, the drive through El Salvador was a memorable one!
Then came 2011, 2012, 2013 and on until today, April 2018.
Carmen Gramajo-Moser, coordinator extraordinaire and someone I am humbled to call my friend, tasked me with writing something for the blog. I don’t even use social media at home! I am certainly more comfortable just sitting and sharing stories over a coffee than trying to write an interesting and captivating blog piece.
I am not sure I know how to convey what being involved in a medical mission really means or how it feels. I can tell you it is an honor to be able to come back each year and experience the overwhelming gratitude of a town and the people who may never know your name but will forever know that “an American doctor came to my town and helped me and my family.”
John Bunyan once wrote; “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Those words are never more true than in the actions of a medical missionary. Seeing the smiles knowing that there has never been a more real “thank you,” knowing you have helped, truly helped someone in need is a feeling like no other. That is what brings one back to the field.
Ten years ago was the scouting trip to SLT. Nine years ago was the first mission. I have been blessed to have been here every year. Each trip is its own reward, I have even learned to recognize many of the locals by name and as friends.
The only thing that has not changed is that there are still people who need our help – for there is no one else and no other help coming. That and a stretch of road between Guatemala City and SLT that I am sure is more pothole than road.
The people are why I’m here.
The people are why I come back every year.
If you can help us take care of the people.