Fox Valley Catholics Help Medical Missionaries in Guatemala
Mission Uplifts Served And Servants
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
August 24, 2017

ST. CHARLES—The people of Guatemala have captured the hearts of several Catholics in the Fox Valley, including St. John Neumann parishioners Lisa and Paul Carani.

“The people are what we call the ‘Three P’s,” says Lisa, a nurse practitioner who has been on two mission trips through a non-profit organization called Healing Hands Medical Mission.

“They are polite, patient and petite. Some hiked six hours and then waited hours to see us.”

Seeing his wife’s enthusiasm after her mission trip last year, her husband came along on this year’s trip.
“I’m not medical,” Paul says with a grin. “I just carry stuff.”

He, in fact, had the important job of monitoring the water used for drinking and for cooking and washing dishes. He, too, was captivated by the patients.

“They never complain about anything. They all dressed so nice,” Paul says, mentioning the “tiny cowboy boots” on one little boy.

“They’re a beautiful people,” Lisa says. “So different from people in the U.S. They can teach us a lot.”
The genuineness of those served by Healing Hands was modeled by the mission’s Guatemalan translator and guide when he visited his mission friends in St. Charles in mid-August.

“I love this country!” Hector Barrios  proclaimed more than once in the gathering space at St. John Neumann on Aug. 13.

Slides from this year’s mission trip were projected on the wall as the Carani’s, Graham Woodward, MD, and Claire Perkovich, RN, introduced Barrios and Healing Hands to curious parishioners who stopped to listen.

Guatemala City computer technician Barrios came to his mission logistics work after he retired and his two daughters were doing well on their own. He decided, he said, “I have to do something to thank God.”

He soon discovered the Claretian missionaries and went with them out of the city many hours away to “the jungles” and served as a teacher. Claretian Father Javier Hernandez, who until this year was pastor at San Antonio de Padua Parish in Semaji, recruited Barrios for his parish. And then along came the Healing Hands volunteers.

“When they come, I am with them,” Barrios says. “This one time in your life, you recognize why you (are) here on this planet. ... My mission is to be happy ... I can’t be happy to see this guy starving. My mission here is to make this world better. All these people are doing that. I’m just happy to help.”

Great need

Healing Hands sent 31 volunteers on a third medical mission trip June 17-24, serving more than 1,000 of the 39,000 San Antonio de Padua Church parishioners. The parish encompasses 83 villages and stretches out for 50 square miles. Three priests serve at the parish, which is home to a program for seminary students, a school and a retreat center. It also has a farm.

The indigenous Mayan and mixed Spanish people of the parish live on an income of $2 to $4 a day. The nearest hospital is three hours away, and the physicians and staff there are often on strike. A bigger hospital is located six and a half hours away in Guatemala City.

The Healing Hands website also notes that “Guatemala has the highest rate of private expenditure in order to access healthcare (of) any other Latin American country. This statistic is reflected in the fact that poor, rural Guatemalans must pay cash in order to receive the most basic of health care needs.”

Three years, much growth

Healing Hands was begun by Tom Olp, a parishioner at St. Michael Parish in Wheaton. During the first mission trip, in June 2015, most of the group wound up ill from stomach parasites.

Before the 2016 mission trip, Dr. Woodward, Healing Hands’ president and medical director, and Melissa Baumgartner, RN, secretary and director of nursing and clinical operations, funded a building project to expand the dorms at San Antonio, build attached bathrooms and help repair and backup the water system. Another doctor brought a water filtration system to use during the mission and to leave behind for the parish. The team provided the parish with an automated external defibrillator, added a dentist and physical therapists and brought a wider range of medications. Those efforts eliminated illnesses for the mission team.

This year’s trip included physicians, nurse practitioners, a dentist, an optometry team from Loyola University in Chicago, nurses, physical therapists, medical students from Creighton School of Medicine, nursing students from Northern Illinois University, other college volunteers and support staff, providing four days of general medicine, pediatrics, dental and eye care, says the mission website.

Healing Hands now is at work to begin providing medical care between trips, more medications, a second dentist, medical kits and training for midwives. Other goals include building a larger and more modern kitchen, expanding the dormitory, developing a referral system with Guatemalan hospitals and setting up a permanent eye clinic.

Improving lives there — and here

Dr. Woodward, a St. Patrick, St. Charles, parishioner, heard about Healing Hands when St. Michael parishioners spoke about it at a Peace and Justice workshop.

“It changed my life,” he says, adding that it had been a spiritual experience for him and “It grounds me in what’s important.”

Dr. Woodward has traveled to Guatemala five times in the last three years. He notes that having medical students accompany the mission is, for him, a matter of giving to students something of the gifts he has received by doing the mission work.

Other student missionaries benefit as well. Lisa Carani notes that students uncertain of their Spanish skills “would bridge the gap with hand signals” and became much more confident, as did nursing and medical students who were able to contribute much to the clinic. Those included her own daughter, she says, adding, “We saw things together.”

The Carani’s tell how St. Patrick School students and their parents in St. Charles caught the excitement when Healing Hands talked to them about Guatemala. The students, says Paul, brought in “a bunch of little toys, (and) the kids in Guatemala went crazy for them. They also raised $3,000 for the mission.”
“What we find (is) we’re inspiring medical students and lay people,” Lisa says.

“We go there really to live our faith,” she adds. “The Holy Spirit called me on this. I never thought I’d go on a mission trip. Now, I’ll never stop going.”