Using crutches, the man came to the medical clinic seeking treatment for his badly fractured ankle. He had been thrown from a bus and had gone to the hospital in El Salvador, but it was overcrowded and he hadn’t been treated in two weeks, so he got frustrated and left.
“In the U.S., this man would have had emergency surgery,” said Gary Lipinski, M.D., AMITA Health regional chief medical officer, south region. “We learned there is only one orthopedic surgeon in the area; because his bone was starting to heal, there was nothing else we could do. He will never be able to fully walk on it again.”
Lipinski was part of a team of 36 associates, physicians and nurses from AMITA Health who traveled to El Salvador last November to serve those in extreme need. Partnering with a local host and physician, the team treated more than 1,800 patients and filled nearly 5,000 prescriptions over five days.
For the patient with the fractured ankle, local hospitals would likely turn him away since he had left before. Sue Freiburger, a physical therapist with AMITA Health Rehabilitation Hospital, spent time with the man, properly fitting his crutches and teaching him how to use them. She taught him how to get up from a chair using crutches and how to go up and down stairs. No one had ever given him any instructions.
“Every patient we encountered shared a story with us,” said Ismael Gama, senior vice president and chief mission officer, who spent some time interpreting for patients. “Whether it was no access to physicians or not being able to afford medications, they were all facing challenges. It was our mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus, and to provide hope and comfort to everyone we served.”
Physician specialists in OB, internal medicine, dermatology, emergency and family medicine treated patients with things like headaches, allergies, asthma, arthritis and shoulder pain.
Lita Simanis, a social worker at AMITA Health, shared anxiety management tools with a 15-year-old boy, who has felt anxious since a traumatic event three years ago. He was in a boat with his brother when the boat was hit by another boat. He fell into the water and his brother dove in to help him, only to be hit by the boat’s motor. His brother survived, but the boy kept playing the event over and over in his mind.
“He was having classic PTSD symptoms,” Simanis said. “When he was distracted — at school or at home, he was fine; but when he tried to sleep, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. We talked to him about speaking kindly to himself — that he needed to walk through the experience to cope with it. I told him to write it all down, to talk to his brother if he could, and gave him some anxiety management tools. He seemed very intrigued and hopeful. He listened very carefully.”
On the last full day in El Salvador, the mission team set up a mini clinic in the hotel lobby to provide medical care to the hotel staff and their families. The hotel also invited some of its vendors. One patient was a fisherman who sells shrimp to the local hotels. He left home at 5 a.m., sold his shrimp for the day and then came to the clinic.
“We started the week as 36 strangers and, in five short days, we became family,” said Rema Johnson, D.O., an emergency medicine physician at AMITA Health St. Alexius Medical Center Hoffman Estates. “We took care of the people here and we took care of each other. That’s God at work. The gifts we brought to the country in our service are returned a hundred times in each of our hearts with this experience.”