Friday, June 6, 2008

Special Report from Front Lines April 2008

ONA Members Help Needy in Guatemala

ONA members have once again proven that when it comes to helping those in need, their charitable work extends well beyond their own communities.

Melanie Fallis, a clinical research coordinator at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and Anna Jewell and Charlene Dart, who work in the surgical services department at Lakeridge Health Corporation in Port Perry, were part of a contingent of Canadian doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics who travelled to Guatemala in Central America for five days in late February 2008 to provide medical/ dental clinics to children and families – who average eight to 10 members – in desperate need of primary health care, and to distribute food, clothing and toys.

Feed the Children Canada
The trip was organized by Feed the Children (FTC) Canada, which, in partnership with Canadians, responds to the needs of children and their families in Canada and around the world by providing food, medicine, education and other essentials.

"We take our medical and dental teams to lesser developed countries because, in most cases, in the poor communities that we visit, the children and adults we treat have never seen a dentist or doctor," said FTC Canada President Ken Dick. "These services are unavailable due to the distance to a clinic and/ or the lack of funds to pay a doctor or dentist and/or to purchase medicines."

In conjunction with a local Guatemalan team of doctors, dentists, administrators and interpreters, and accompanied by members of the Guatemalan police to ensure their safety, the team treated more than 3,500 medical patients and 450 dental patients in five regions in the country.

Role of Our Members
"While in Guatemala, we worked as a team, assessing patients and delivering basic health care," said Dart, who along with Fallis and Jewell learned of the medical trip through Fallis’ brother-in-law Dr. Tony Brown, who is the medical advisor for FTC Canada. "We took blood pressures, blood sugars, listened to chests, checked ears, noses and throats, and listened to people via our translators."

"Vitamins and medications for parasites were given to everyone," pointed out Jewell, noting that a pharmacy was set up at each site.

"Poor living conditions, lack of clean water, substandard diet and a difficult life of hard labour all contributed to the medical issues we saw," which included dysentery, lice, parasites, scabies, respiratory ailments, gastritis, hypertension, diabetes, advanced tooth decay, colds, fevers, asthma, viral infections and injuries, said Fallis. She is hopeful "the local team will continue what we have started."

Giving Back
For the three nurses, who gave up precious vacation time to go – although they don’t look at it that way – it was a chance to give back to those less fortunate.

"I was looking for a new and different type of nursing experience that would contribute to the greater good and challenge me at the same time," said Fallis. "Guatemala was a compelling opportunity to help and learn."

"This was the perfect opportunity to see what most tourists wouldn’t be able to experience," added Jewell, who traveled on a FTC Canada medical trip to Honduras last year.

For Dart, Fallis and Jewell, the biggest reward was the genuine appreciation they felt from the local residents they came to help.

"Through education, encouragement, friendship and hope, I think we made a real difference in the lives of the people we met," stated Fallis.

"The Guatemalans were so thankful that we came to help them," added Dart. "The sincere ‘gracias, seƱora’ is what will take me back on another mission."

And she’s not the only one. Jewell said that she is hoping "for the privilege of participating in a medical/dental mission next year to El Salvador," while Fallis added that she would "volunteer again without hesitation."

The trip also helped the nurses appreciate what they have back home.

"I was very thankful to return home safely to a country that has a health care system like it has," remarked Jewell.

What ONA Members Can Learn
Fallis said if there’s one thing she wants other ONA members to take away from this story, it’s that these medical trips are an opportunity to invest your time and skills outside your current job.

"They serve as a reminder that the Learning never stops," she said. "There’s always a way to make a difference in the lives of others who need our help."

Reprinted with permission of the Ontario Nurses' Association

No comments: