‘Life-changing surgeries’: Island doctors and nurses travel to Guatemala

'Life-changing surgeries': Island doctors and nurses travel to Guatemala
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Dr. Jason Gray and operating room nurse Brishen Holmes-Slattery spend their days helping people and in addition to surgeries here, the Victoria health care workers also volunteer with Health For Humanity.

Every November, they help disadvantaged people in Guatemala.

“When we’re down there, we fill six operating rooms each day and of those, we have two plastic surgery operating rooms, doing cleft lip and palate, general surgery, gynecology, orthopedic and then urology,” Dr. Grey says.

For many of the patients they operate on, the surgeries are life-changing.

“They’re able to go back to work and, you know, help the local economy more and provide for their families,” Brishen Holmes-Slattery says.

“The biggest thing is seeing the gratitude in the faces, especially for me doing cleft lip and palate,” Dr. Gray says. “The moms, when their kid comes back from the operating room with a new smile, you really have this feeling that we’ve done something useful and important.”

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Dr. Gray is the medical lead for Health For Humanity, and this November will be his 10th year helping out.

“A team can come and can set up and in two weeks can do close to 400 surgeries at a fraction of the cost to do it here,” Dr. Gray says. “That’s a wonderful feeling!”

Since Health For Humanity’s first surgical mission in 2002, it’s provided care for more than 3,000 people in Guatemala and the Philippines.

But surgeries aren’t the only way Health For Humanity makes a difference. It also fundraises for ceramic water filters and menstrual products, and sponsors a school at a coffee plantation.

“Normally the kids when they’re nine years old, they get put out on the coffee fields, they don’t get schooling,” Dr. Gray explains. “And so we’ve worked together with this coffee plantation to develop a school and fund that.”

Nurses and doctors — including anesthesiologists and GPs who can assist in the OR — are still needed for this year.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to use my knowledge and skills in a place that is very much needed,” Brishen Holmes-Slattery says.

“Being able to give back, and although it’s a bit of a clichĂ©, you get so much out of being down there,” Dr. Gray adds. “The people are so lovely so it’s just fulfilling in every way.”

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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