A Surgical Team Success

At 7am on January 15th, Dawn Stapleton’s Minnesota-based surgical team gathered in the education room at the Hospitalito to go over the plan for the week’s surgeries. Some group members had been coming to Guatemala since the early 2000s, and for others it was their first exposure to the beauty of Lake Atitlán.

After the short meeting, the group came downstairs to see almost 50 patients and their families crowding the waiting room, awaiting their evaluation for surgery. Each patient spoke with the surgeons and anesthesiologists with the help of translation between Tz’utujil, Spanish, and English to determine their eligibility for surgery. After seeing the doctors, patients spoke with Dr. Chuc, the hospital director, and Vicenta, the social worker, to schedule their surgery and discuss pre-surgery directions such as not eating or drinking anything after midnight the night before. By 4pm, all patients had been seen, and most had been scheduled for surgery. The team went home tired but happy after a successful first day. 

For the rest of the week, the team arrived early to begin the day’s procedures. They repaired hernias, removed gallbladders, and took out cysts and other masses. For many patients, this surgery represented the end of a long period of waiting for treatment- one woman had had a hernia for over 14 years.

The week was truly a team effort between local Hospitalito staff and the visiting team members. Despite language barriers, the team’s nurses worked together with nurses from the Hospitalito to prep patients for surgery, and the surgical staff collaborated with HA doctors for post-op care. 

Pre-op nurse Stacy with Dolores, HA nurse

This general surgery team is one of about five groups that come every year to provide specialty care at the Hospitalito. The services they provide include gynecological surgeries, ophthalmological surgeries, cleft lift treatment, and dental services. However brief, this access to specialized, high-quality care is invaluable to the communities around Atitlan. We are incredibly grateful for the work of these groups, and are always looking for opportunities to host additional surgical teams at Hospitalito. 

(from left to right) Steven, medical student, Greg, nurse anesthetist, Jim, anesthesiologist, and Lisa, nurse, in the OR about to begin a surgery

By the end of the week, the team had performed over 40 surgeries, and they were awed by the gratitude expressed for their work. “I had a patient who only spoke Tz’utujil, and the translator kept going on and on with continuous thanks and gratitude. Another patient gave me her rosary,” noted Dr. Stapleton, coordinator of the surgical team. Dr. Jim Turner, the team’s anesthesiologist, explained why he returns every year: “I keep coming back because who wouldn’t. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people… Once we’re here it’s such a great time. Everything flows.”

The whole team at the end of the week

Welcome Back!

As we wrap up another year filled with patient care, community outreach projects, and generous volunteer work, we are excited to re-launch the Hospitalito Atitlán Blog.

dr-ken-1Earlier this fall we were grateful to have Dr. Ken Dolkart, an Internal Medicine specialist from New Hampshire, as a volunteer. Here he shares his experience spending an afternoon at a Día de Salud, or Health Day, a program funded by the Strachan Foundation that provides provisional clinics and health education in three rural communities of Santiago Atitlán.


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We pile equipment and ourselves into a pickup truck that soon climbs the roads south of Santiago Atitlán. Javier, a volunteer gynecologist-obstetrician from Spain, Chelsea, our Global Health Fellow and Family Practitioner, Bianca, program coordinator, a cadre of support staff, and myself are piled in amongst the medications and other supplies. Curving mountain roads are obscured by a rising mist, but the driver, Lino, knows the route to El Carmen Metzabal well. This is a finca, or plantation, whose impoverished workers grow coffee beans for export.


Patients wait for treatment outside the clinic at Carmen Metzabal

The clinic is a two room shelter from which a bare electric bulb hangs by a single wire from the ceiling. Wooden benches and tables serve as intake, and a makeshift pharmacy accommodates the needs of waiting mothers and children.  A generator across the street starts, lightbulbs come on, and as chickens scratch next door, a portable ultrasound machine comes to life. In the adjacent room, numerous expectant women receive expert evaluation with, paradoxically, state of the art technology for maternal-fetal health.


A family being seen at the Día de Salud

This afternoon, we treat at least 30 women and children contending with infectious diseases such as diarrhea, parasites, impetigo, and dengue fever as well as diabetes, hypertension, anemia, respiratory ailments and nutritional issues. Although the larger unsolved issues related to poverty clearly lie before us, here there is regular care that would otherwise go unprovided for this vulnerable population.