LAST WEEK WE INDICATED WE WERE GOING TO BE PUBLISHING A HEARTWARMING STORY on how the Scully – Welsh Cancer Center Clinical Research Director, Wanda Kay North, PhD, MBA, RN, CCRC, CIM volunteers each year in the Faith in Practice mission to improve the physical, spiritual, and economic conditions of the poor in Guatemala.
The Faith in Practice endeavor is to provide surgical, medical, and dental mission trips, and other health-related programs to Guatemala through short-term mission trips. Wanda Kay is eager to recruit medical professionals from the Indian River County community to volunteer and join her in this fulfilling mission.
Wanda Kay was recruited to serve as the Scully – Welsh Cancer Center Clinical Research Director and began her work on August 29, 2014. As the Clinical Research Director she is developing a new program and will oversee multiple oncology research studies aimed at providing new medical therapies as an important weapon in the war against cancer.
Prior to relocating to Vero Beach, she worked with the St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah, GA for 20 years. In the 675 bed health system, she developed and managed a clinical research department and an outpatient infusion center. She served on multiple committees and regularly volunteered for Church and community charities and events.
Her association with Faith in Practice began when “God opened the door.” She never dreamed her commitment to go to Guatemala in 1996 would continue on for almost 20 years as a Guatemalan missionary.
For years, the Franciscan brothers had been feeding and caring for the homeless in Antigua, Guatemala. The people under the care of the Franciscan’s were incapacitated and included abandoned adults and children whose families could not and/or would not, care for them.
Many children were abandoned because they had extreme deformities. The Franciscan brothers had no permanent facilities to meet the growing demand of people needing shelter and medical care and worked with little, if any, operable medical equipment.
There was insufficient staff to provide the basic needs of the people under the Franciscan’s care. On September 21, 1983 their prayers were answered when, under the leadership of Brother Guillermo Bonilla, they were allowed by the City of Antigua to move into Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro, an abandoned national hospital that had been destroyed in the 1976 earthquake. They moved into the hospital with eight abandoned children.
Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro
In 1991, Todd Collier, a seminary student from Houston, Texas went to Guatemala to learn how to speak Spanish and met Friar Guillermo Bonilla, Director of the Obras. Todd quickly realized the facility had few resources to help their residents or the injured and sick who came daily for help.
Rev. Todd Collier
Todd made a promise to Friar Bonilla that after he returned to Houston, he would come back and bring medical care. On his return to Texas, Todd called a couple he knew, Joe and Vera Wiatt, and asked for their help. Answering the call from God, Joe and Vera, along with support of the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church and Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston, organized the first surgical team of 9 volunteers in 1993 and helped Todd fulfill his promise to God and the Friar; to bring medical care to Guatemala.
So moved by the effort, these initial volunteers founded Faith in Practice in 1994 and in 1996, Joe and Vera Wiatt sold their ACE hardware store to dedicate 100% of their time to the development of Faith in Practice; running the mission logistics out of their back bedroom.
Since the first trip of nine volunteers, in 2007 there were more than 650 volunteers representing 33 U.S. states. In 2016, approximately 1,200 volunteers from across the United States will serve beside approximately 800 Guatemalan volunteers. More than 25,000 patients will receive medical care.
Today, in addition to providing medical and surgical care at the Obras facility, the volunteers spread out across outlying areas of Guatemala to hold medical clinics, using schools and village civic centers as their home base. Additionally, teams also travel to Hilario Galindo Hospital in San Felipe, Retalhuleu to provide surgical services.
From January to October, almost each week a group of approximately 25-40 health care volunteers travel to Guatemala for nine days of service. These volunteers pay their own expenses and represent the following surgical and medical specialties:
Surgical Specialties: General, Orthopedics, Gynecology, Ear, Nose and Throat, Urology and Plastics.
Medical Specialties: General, Gynecology, Pediatrics, Audiology, Ear, Nose and Throat and Dental.
Non-Medical Specialties: Team Administrators, Translators and Cooks.
One of the more common medical problems are deformities like cleft palates, which happen early during a woman’s pregnancy. Another example of a common medical problem is extreme scarring from burns children have after they have fallen into fires that families use for cooking. While some children can benefit from scar revisions done by Faith in Practice plastic surgeons, many are left with scars that prevent them from having a normal life.
Wanda Kay says that while all the surgical cases are rewarding, there was one that she will always remember. As a scrub nurse, she assisted a surgeon on an ear reconstruction of a child. “While we knew there was nothing the surgeon could do to help restore the child’s hearing, just the cosmetic procedure was going to provide a better quality of life for the child. We normally do not do reconstructive surgery unless it is for a medical reason.” And In some cases the deformities are so severe, “you can’t do anything except provide love.
We did have one patient that suffered severe internal injuries from a stabbing and could not obtain a job because of his injuries. Through the commitment of physicians in Savannah, a local hospital, and the kindness of many Faith in Practice volunteers, we were able to bring the patient to the Savannah hospital and perform the needed surgery that allowed the patient to go back to Guatemala, obtain a job, marry and start his own family. It is the faces of this patient, as well as so many others, that we will always remember.”
Faith and Practice is now the leading health care provider in Guatemala.
In 1996 Rev. Collier relocated from Texas to Savannah, Georgia and continued to spread the word about Faith in Practice. This is where he connected with now Scully – Welsh Cancer Center Clinical Research Director, Dr. Wanda Kay North and touched her heart with his story.
The volunteer teams bring approximately 100 trunks each week with medical supplies. Wanda Kay said several hospitals, including a hospital in Savannah, were instrumental in donating operating equipment from their hospitals that were being replaced with newer equipment. This equipment was used to help renovate and update the now 5 operating rooms at the Obras in Antigua.
“While the equipment was older in US standards, it was still in excellent condition to be shipped to Guatemala. It is amazing how talented the Guatemalan people are in restoring and fixing anything. We (team volunteers) have even learned how to use duct tape when needed! Many of us (volunteers) are always on the look-out for hospital equipment that is being replaced and are never shy in asking if the equipment could possibly be donated as charity.”
The supplies carried by each team, are packed in Rubbermaid type trunks, a little bigger than an military-type trunk, and have to be registered with Customs in Guatemala months in advance of each trip. Previous trips have experienced delays and seizing of trunks if anything was found in a particular trunk that was not on the matching list.
The loss of just one trunk could be detrimental to the team and the ability to perform planned surgeries. Team members who have made repeated trips to Guatemala have learned how to carry their personal items in one carry-on bag as anything checked as luggage, is medical supplies. “You learn how to travel light and realize you just don’t need a bunch of stuff in Guatemala.”
Faith in Practice continues to be based in Houston Texas but has an office staffed with about 10 people who manage many of the operational and travel logistics for many of the teams. Wanda Kay said “it has been amazing to see Faith in Practice grow from an office in a spare bedroom to a staff of 10 people and thousands of volunteers who give of their time. We know the Lord is always a part of our trips.”
Wanda Kay with her Friends in Guatemala
Aside from the passion of serving others by providing medical care, one of Wanda Kay’s and many other volunteer’s favorite time in Guatemala are the morning devotions. Up early, by 4:30 or 5:00 AM, the team gathers for breakfast and time for sharing with the team.
“We begin each day with the Lord. We know we are there because the Lord has given each one of us a talent. We have seen His amazing work in Guatemala.”
Wanda Kay said Faith in Practice is an ecumenical, not-for-profit organization and shares the mission with all religions, but God is the center for what is done. “Our understanding that, as people of God we are called to demonstrate the love and compassion that is an outward sign of God’s presence among us.”
Faith in Practice’s life-changing medical mission is to minister to the poor, while providing a spiritually enriching experience for all volunteers. Because they are up so early, Wanda Kay says she enjoys experiencing each day from sunrise to dark; despite the long days.
Upon meeting Rev. Collier and going with five people from Savannah on her first trip, Dr. North now helps to grow the Faith in Practice teams from Savannah, by serving on the Savannah-based Faith in Practice Leadership group which works year around to develop and organize upcoming teams.
While she now lives in Vero Beach, she spends many hours of her free time helping to identify new team members and planning for upcoming trips. “When I knew I was moving to Vero Beach, I made a commitment to plant the seed in the Vero Beach medical community, in hopes to develop a full team from our area.
We have many talented and generous physicians in Vero and I have been impressed with their compassion for patients. I know many of them would fall in love with the beautiful people of Guatemala, just as what I have. I am really excited because we have a dentist, dental assistant and possibly an anesthesiologist that will be joining the Savannah team in February 2016.
I will continue to share my story and watch others make Faith in Practice a part of their life.” Although she has gone on over 30 mission trips to Guatemala, she still feels the excitement on each trip. “What is especially rewarding for me is watching the faces of new volunteers as they enrich their lives by serving as Faith in Practice volunteers. It is truly a life-changing mission.”
She has already lined up a denial assistant for a trip in February and anesthesiologist is considering it. Her search goes on.
Thank you, Dr. North for bringing your good work to our attention. We hope by forwarding this around within the Indian River community, you will reach your dream of having a team from Vero Beach.
If anyone is interested in learning more about Faith in Practice, you may visit their website at faithinpractice.org, or contact Wanda Kay at (912) 665-0604.