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US medical volunteers bring impoverished Guatemalan women the dream of walking without pain

LatinaLista — Antigua, Guatemala has a lot of things going for it — beautifully preserved Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture; spectacular ruins of colonial churches; an internationally recognized destination for Spanish language study and within sight of three large volcanoes.

Medical team from Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach (WOGO) gather for a group photo in Guatemala.(Photo: WOGO)

Yet, the city, like the rest of Guatemala, is home to many indigenous people who can’t afford or have access to the kind of healthcare that would vastly improve their quality of living.

Take for example, Doris Gloria Rosales Alvarez. Doris’ knees have been hurting for the past six years, limiting her ability to participate in many daily activities. There isn’t a day that goes by that Doris doesn’t feel pain. It’s enough pain to make her feel she’s not useful to her family and friends since it hurts too much to do anything.

If it were not for a volunteer medical group comprised of everyone from anesthesiologists, internal medicine physicians, physician assistants, scrub technicians, and circulating RNs to physical therapists, biomedical engineers and interpreters, hundreds of other Guatemalans experiencing the same intense knee and joint pain would never get the medical attention they desperately need.

The volunteer medical personnel are part of the non profit Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach (WOGO).

The non profit selected Guatemala, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, as the 2011 mission due to its stark social and health care disparities. In Guatemala, 75 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 40 percent receive no access to health care services.

Poverty in the country is also highly concentrated among indigenous communities and households headed by women — many of whom work in maquilas or modern day sweatshops in ten-hour shifts, six days a week.

During the last week of September, WOGO volunteers have traveled to Guatemala to work on their second international mission with “Operation Walk.” These medical professionals operate their “miracles” over the course of seven days bringing free joint reconstructive surgery to women. The surgeons perform knee replacement surgery on patients who begin walking within three days of surgery.

WOGO targets women in its medical outreach because of the unique needs of women who develop more knee arthritis, experience more advanced stages of joint disease and greater disability, yet often face many barriers to receiving effective long-term treatment.

In a region of the world where walking is a necessity rather than an extra-curricular activity, the urgency to address the chronic pain felt by these women is all the more important.

Delma Corina Centen with her son Elwin Garcia Centen traveled from El Salvador to request knee surgery from WOGO volunteers.

In fact, the need for WOGO and its services can’t be better illustrated than in the story of

Delma Corina Centen. Delma lives in a small town near Antigua but in El Salvador. She traveled all the way from El Salvador to ask for surgery after she heard about Operation Walk through word of mouth.

She had been living with knee pain for the past 10 years. Delma, who lives with her husband and two of her six children, wants to get her knees operated on so she can return to work as a seamstress. Her family needs the money.

However, WOGO doesn’t just come in for a week and does Good Samaritan deeds and packs off. In addition to performing free orthopaedic surgery, WOGO provides hands-on training to Guatemalan surgeons, nurses, medical students and other healthcare professionals on the latest orthopaedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to create a lasting contribution to patient care.

The hope is that while it’s important to help these communities in need, it’s also important to teach them how to help themselves. So women like Doris and Delma don’t have to wait years till they hear via word of mouth that there’s one-time help available to relieve their suffering — they’ll know automatically where to go and not resign themselves to living a life in pain.

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