by Janet Greidanus

Again this year (2019) we have been so blessed on our Mission to Cuenca, Ecuador,” said orthopaedic surgeon, Thomas Greidanus. “We were able to do a record 48 hip and knee replacements. Our patients were so grateful for the help they received, and we, in turn, were moved by their gratitude.”

Likewise, recovery room nurse, Anna Sokolowski, expressed, “The gratitude that the people of Ecuador have leaves me speechless and warms my heart. I think everyone goes into healthcare wanting to help people and every year that I go on this mission it renews every single reason why I went into nursing.” In a similar vein, dentist, Dan Van Berkel reflected, “I see the tears of the team members after a hard week of doing great service and the difficulty of parting. I’m inspired by the impact the trip has on the team members, what it brings to their lives back home.”

Greidanus, Sokolowski, and Van Berkel are describing an aspect of what happens when participating on a mission such as Operation Esperanza which last month marked its 22nd annual trip to Cuenca, Ecuador. Not only are the lives of those who receive care changed, but the lives of the caregivers are also changed. In addition to the 48 hip and knee replacement surgeries, the team provided 71 intra-articular injections to relieve pain for adults who were not surgical candidates, 18 paediatric surgeries for children with club feet and dislocated hips, and dental care to 280 individuals, including adult candidates for surgery, poor children in rural schools, and those living at a local shelter which at this time is housing a large number of Venezuelan refugees.

Maria surrounded by nurses.

Every patient touched our hearts,” said Sharon Litchfield, charge nurse of post-operative care, “but a few stand out. We all fell in love with little toothless Maria who smiled non- stop. She looked 91 but was really 61. When asked what she was going to do now with her new hip she said, ‘take care of my family’. Cornelia, who had bilateral hip replacements, brought both her daughter and the physiotherapists to tears when she walked the next morning. Melida, whose sister had been lifting her in and out of her wheelchair daily, had not walked for three years. We witnessed her taking her first steps after surgery.”

And there was Jose, a man called in from the standby list who took a harrowing three hour drive over an Andean mountain pass instead of a usual six hour route on better highways so as not to miss out on the opportunity to have a knee replacement on the last day of surgery. On average, most of the adult orthopaedic patients were dis-charged within 24 hours, needing only plain Tylenol and Advil. “When we ask our patients if there’s pain,” reported Litchfield, “the answer is always poco or poquito (a little bit) and always with the biggest smile.”

“I get the greatest satisfaction in seeing how the dental health of the children has improved over the years,” said Van Berkel, “their previous dental procedures holding well, including many dental sealants – the most cost effective prevention available. A favourite story of mine is from a couple of years ago when I did extensive dental work on a 7 year old boy. The following year he needed minimal work but his friend required a lot. The boy stood by his friend comforting and encouraging him and explaining in Spanish that we were there to help him, that he would feel much better afterwards. With his persistent close proximity, I donned him with small gloves that were still too big for his hands, had my dental assistant pass him the appropriate dental instruments that he could in turn pass to me, allowing him to be in the centre of our action. My hope is that this could inspire an occupation choice in the future. Anything is possible.”

Physiotherapy assistant, Marnie Kranenburg, who joined the team for the first time this year, sums it up well. “Their (the patients’) lives were bettered, but so were ours for having worked as a tight knit team and for having experienced the strength of these brave people who trusted strangers to do their best for them.

Returning to the bitter cold of Edmonton, though work and travel weary, the experience has encouraged us to go back and serve where we can to make a difference in the lives of those we work with and for.”

Tom and Janet Greidanus are EMAS Ecuador Team Members who serve faithfully with Operation Esperanza.