Some of the medical team (left to right)
Dr Deb Bauer, pediatric PT, Ricky Perez, trip coordinator, Kristen Kellogg, RN, Lauri Pramuk, MD - pediatrician, Fr Kevin Burke, Jesuit, Dr. Stephanie Ibemere, PhD RN, Dr. Eric Bertelsen, pharmacist
Tonight a group of 27 of us will depart from Denver, North Carolina and Ohio with a singular purpose - to meet in Guatemala and continue a partnership that began between Regis University and Ciudad de la Esperanza in 2019. It always seems like just before we depart from Guatemala something big is happening. In March of 2020, it was the opening act of the pandemic. That was the last time we were able to take a student group down. We left just a day before the lockdown. We didn’t know how close we were cutting it. And this year, it is coming on the heels of a mass murder of grade school children. It is hard to muster the strength to even talk about the latest school shooting. As a pediatrician it is more than evident to me just where our priorities lie in this country. It isn’t with children.
As we do our best to repair our broken world, on the eve of this new trip, I mostly am grateful for friends. I have traveled to Guatemala annually now for 11 years. This is the first of those years I will not be meeting my dear friend, Richard, in Guatemala. Richard is the “grown up” doctor who usually goes on the trip with us. I see the kids, he sees the grown ups, but in reality he is the biggest kid of all of us! Richard has had some medical complications from a surgery on his spine last fall and isn’t physically able to travel this year. He will go again, both he and I are sure of it. So, I will be making a new friend with our internist, Felipe Amador. I am overjoyed his wife Tristen and daughter, Elena are also coming this year. Richard and I will text and talk about everything still. He will be with me in spirit. I know how hard it will be for him not to be there.
Our core medical team of Dr Stephanie Ibemere, nurse Kristen Kellogg, and pharmacist Eric Bertelsen will of course be on the trip. We are joined by two new medical team members who went on the alumni trip last summer - Dr. Christian Alegria - a dentist who went as an undergraduate with Xavier in 2012, and Dr. Deb Bauer, pediatric PT, whom I have known for almost 30 years. Ricky Perez, who is a Regis team alumni is back as our trip coordinator and his mom Mary is coming again as an interpreter. In the fall of 1989 as a freshman at Regis, I took my first ever class in theology from a young Jesuit named Kevin Burke. Father Kevin and I became good friends. I was babysitting his nephews for him on campus one day a year later when he introduced me to Chris…a few years later he presided at our wedding. He went on to baptize two of our kids. He now works closely with Chris as VP of Mission at Regis. He is coming to Guatemala this year too! We have lots of great work ahead of us and will be starting some new partnerships in an effort to build on ways we can make our relationship with the people at Ciudad de la Esperanza more sustainable.
Our 14 Regis students on this trip are a mix of nursing, pre-med, pre-dental and psychology students. We have met with them weekly throughout the academic year to help them prepare for this experience. And they may not really know it yet, but they are all ready. I cannot begin to guess what experiences we will have in clinic, but I know they will all come to deeply love Guatemala just like the rest of us have. There is no way to adequately prepare them to have their hearts broken and put back together or how to predict how that may happen. I am also deeply grateful my daughter, Grace will be among one of those 14 students. Grace first went to Guatemala with me at age 12 and to say it impacted her is a gross understatement. She was unable to go last summer on the alumni trip due to an expired passport (top mom fail moment). So she fundraised and attended all the prep classes with the rest of the students this year so she could make her way back.
In an extra special turn of events, Chris will actually be able to join us for the last two days. He will meet us in Guatemala City for a meeting we are having the administration of the Jesuit university in Guatemala (Universidad Rafael Landivar) to start an international partnership of Jesuit schools to help build sustainability for the clinic at Cuidad de la Esperanza. He arrives in Guatemala with another close friend, the best man from our wedding, Stephen Belt, who will be doing some traveling in Central America this summer. And our two days in Angitua we will be joined by my friend Emily Zielinski Gutierrez, who is a PhD in public health, lives in Guatemala City with her family and is the director of the CDC for Central America.
For me this is like the all star line up of so many wonderful parts of my life. To be able to spend some time in one of my favorite places in the world with some lifelong friends, and to be able to make new friendships, I am just thankful. The students and medical team will be blogging during our trip, so you can follow along. It takes us a day or two to get the blog rolling down there, but I encourage you to follow along.