Every six months, physicians and nurses from Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., travel to a rural area outside of Chiquimula, Guatemala, to care for people who live without access to modern medicine. Lice, tooth decay, poor eyesight, and asthma are common. Some of the locals suffer from more severe health issues, including parasitic infections, pneumonia, malnutrition, and malaria.
Joel L. Strohecker, DO, a family-medicine-trained hospitalist practicing at Lutheran Medical Center and St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, joined the Geisinger group in June. He recently spoke with TH eWire about his weeklong trip.
Question: About 70% of your patients were children. When did you really feel like you were able to help?
Answer: A couple of little kids who had asthma were brought back a couple days later and were so much better. And the joint injections you could do for the men who worked in the fields. Those were gratifying experiences because they immediately feel better. Then they bring their families the next day because we’ve done something good for them.
Q: You mentioned one memorable patient, a woman with a spinal cord injury. Tell me more about her.
A: She’s someone that brought tears to my eyes. It had taken her a couple of hours to walk the trails to get there. She had fallen 20 years earlier and had never been able to really walk well since then. It was very obvious, just by her exam, that she had an upper cervical spinal cord injury. It was just so sad. I mean, what can you do? We gave her steroids, but she had diminished function in her legs.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of the trip?
A: The work was tiring and not necessarily uplifting at times, but I think the best part for me was when we would go back to Chiquimula every night. … We would all go back and play soccer. For me, that was probably the biggest treat and most enjoyable time of the trip. You weren’t just a tourist; you were really embedded with the people.
For more information about volunteer opportunities in Guatemala, contact Dr. Strohecker at [email protected].