Back with open arms and an open heart

Angela Ellis

 Yesterday was first day of clinic and without missing a beat it was like I was transported back four years ago when I came to Guatemala with Xavier to help build capacity in a community that needed help in providing comprehensive primary care to their residents. I first came to Guatemala in 2011, where I moved here as part of a US diplomatic mission. For two years I was immersed in this beautiful country’s culture, and I fell in love with it and its people. It was here where I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and so when the opportunity presented itself that an alumni trip was in the works for this year’s trip, without hesitation I asked Dr. Lauri to count me in. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard, but especially hard on developing countries like Guatemala. They simply do not have the same access to resources as the US, which makes this year’s trip that more critical. In addition to the hundreds of medications and medical supplies this trip brings every year, we were also able to bring important PPE and Covid-19 kits. Resources that are scarce in the country, and nearly nonexistent in the rural highlands where we are. This important partnership that we have with La Ciudad de Esperanza is one step closer to providing everyone the equitable healthcare they deserve, because healthcare should be a right. 

What also makes this trip special is for the first time we have a dentist with us, Dr. Christian Alegrías, who came on this trip when he was an undergrad at Xavier. Dental healthcare is so important because it can drastically affect your health. If you don’t have good dental hygiene it can cause other systemic and chronic problems in the body. And from the first patient that we saw, which required two extractions and four fillings, I saw how much this community lacked not only in the access of proper dental care but also education in maintaining good dental hygiene. Dr. Christian explained how the certain types of inflammation and periodontal disease that we were seeing in these patients reflected problems and chronic illnesses in their overall health, such as diabetes. I was amazed that even though Dr. Christian and I became efficient at seeing patients, providing the fillings, cleanings and/or extractions they needed, many still have to come back to get more work done because of the poor oral health many had. That’s why our community partnership is so critical to this program, because we want to make sure that after we leave we have providers to check on our patients and to eventually become so self-sustainable that we are no longer needed.

As I am about to embark on a new journey this fall as a first year medical student, this trip has reminded me of why I want to be a doctor: to not only improve the health of others, but to also be a token of change, to set the world on fire and work towards creating a more equitable and sustainable future. This trip is just one example of this and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store for us. 


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