We are here as a team to bring #HealthforSanLucas, but after nine years of missions, our reach has grown to the communities surrounding Lake Atitlan. We meet patients who have traveled long distances to see us. Today we met quite a few of those patients including Juana, a 50-year-old who traveled from Quiche, a small town 114 miles, or 5 hours and two bus rides away so she could get help for a bladder prolapse procedure. Maria, 55, traveled from Chimaltenango for a hernia repair. Her journey of 42 miles took over two hours to complete. We also met Mendon, an 18-year-old who traveled 228 miles over 6 hours with his parents all the way from San Marcos to meet with Dr. Tun, who promised the family that Mendon could get his hernia operation once our team arrived.
Our little buddy Jose is only four years old and has been dealing with an umbilical hernia for some time. He and his mom took several buses from Santa Lucia Cotsumasgualpa, 55 miles away to see us. They heard from their neighbors in the “barrio” about a group that comes to the San Lucas hospital every year and took a chance on finding us. While patients are traveling great distances to seek our help, 43-year-old Maria has traveled the furthest. It took her 8 hours and three bus changes to get to us from Coban. All of this to get help with pain from her hernia.
There are National Hospitals available closer to many of these patients, but Dr. Tun tells us that the options for specialties, economic limitations and a lack of resources, make them look for other solutions.
A National Hospital will charge a minimum fee of Q3,000 or $400, which might include services the patients will not use and will not get reimbursed. This hospital charges as well, but much less, about Q200, or a $25-$26 fee. Dr. Tun explains that the fee helps to cover the expenses that it takes for his hospital and staff to serve each patient.
When you work as a farmer and make less than $7.50 a day, Q200 is a major sacrifice. Patients and their families are also responsible for providing bedding and food for the duration of the patient’s hospital stay. Add another Q100-Q200 ($13-$25) to cover round-trip transportation costs for the patient and one companion, and it’s easy to see how unattainable it can be to get medical help.
Medical Missions Foundation does not leave anyone without care. Funds raised for this trip go to help those patients who can’t afford their hospital stay. Dr. Tun tells us that they are getting very popular and busy. ”Promotores,” or health promoters travel to local communities and spread the word about our group and other groups that come to assist with medical care.
This year marks the 10th year that Medical Missions Foundation has come to San Lucas. I remember that first trip well, scouting the location, empty rooms, an old stove, and a non-working anesthesia machine. No staff, no ramp to take patients down from a second-floor operating room, just a “hope” for Dr. Tun then.
With the vision of the medical scouting team, Medical Missions Foundation and private donors filled a 10 ft container with all of the supplies needed to outfit an OR and that “hope” became a reality for Dr. Tun. Ten years later, seven different medical teams from the US come to donate services that range from general surgeries to OBGYN procedures, orthopedic care, and ophthalmology, with the possibility of adding many others on the horizon.
I believe it’s time to revisit our hashtag. Services are not only provided for the local community or even the region. The “hope” we once had has gone far beyond beautiful Lake Atitlan; it has become a National “hope.” I now believe it is more fitting to say #healthforGuatemala.