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news News Wednesday, February 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 2:01 PM - Wednesday, February 21, 2018 2:01 PM

Staff members of Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center — Lexington serve the children and women of Guatemala

Medical professionals volunteer with Children of the Americas for a mission trip to care for the underprivileged

Each January, Children of the Americas (COTA) sends a volunteer group of 100 medical/surgical professionals from across the United States to serve in different areas of Guatemala for one week.

For approximately 13 years, Kit Montgomery, M.D., pediatric anesthesiologist at Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center — Lexington and Shelley Ryan, physical therapist at Lexington Shriners Medical Center, have served on a volunteer basis, holding the responsibility for their airline travel and hotel expenses. Nearly 90 percent of the volunteers return each year for the mission trip.

“It is like a reunion for many of us and we work very hard to provide the best care we can for the women and children in need.  It is truly a team effort!” said Ryan.

The team works with a hospital located in a rural area of Guatemala that can best accommodate the medical teams’ needs. The medical team serving under COTA for the duration of the mission trip is there to provide services to underserved women and children (up to age 21). COTA provides the following services:

  • Obstetric/gynecological surgery
  • General surgery
  • Pediatric orthopaedic surgery
  • Family practice medicine
  • Plastic surgery
  • Dentistry
  • Orthotic/prosthetic services
  • Full pharmaceutical services

The volunteers collect donations from generous donor organizations such as: hospitals, health care companies and an organization called Americares, for an entire year prior to departing for the mission trip. “I work to collect donated equipment throughout the year leading up to the trip and have it shipped to Guatemala in preparation of our arrival,” said Ryan. “During each mission trip I make a list of items/medical equipment that would be helpful the following year.”

Dr. Montgomery and Ryan are there to provide pediatric orthopaedic surgery and orthotic/prosthetic services to the women and children. Specifically, Ryan’s role is to provide wheelchairs, walkers and various other equipment that will help provide the children with mobility. She also provides patients with non-custom splints, and orthotic and prosthestic devices. A prosthetist on the team provides custom braces and prostheses. Additionally, wound care is provided for patients in need.

“In 2005, I met a child who lost his foot in a farm accident.  I saw him all that week for wound care. The next year we fitted him with a prosthesis and most years since then he has returned to the COTA team for follow-up care. I was thrilled to see him again this year!” Ryan said.

Since 2001, COTA has been attending to medical needs in Guatemala. The COTA organization, through the partnership of volunteer medical teams, has:

  • Donated over 1,000 major surgeries in northern Guatemala
  • Helped 110 children travel to the U.S. for donated surgery from eight countries, under their stateside program
  • Launched a dental component for their surgical mission trips in 2008
  • Continued to grow and develop a strong orthotics and prosthetics service to create healthy lifelong self-sufficiency in those patients who arrive for care
  • Acquired and distributed medical and pharmaceutical supplies to local health care providers in Guatemala to assist in their work after the mission trip concludes for the year

Montgomery and Ryan have seen the mission trips to Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in the world, as a humbling experience. In years past, they have had the privilege of bringing some of the children from Guatemala to Shriners Hospitals for Children for follow-up care and are able to keep in touch with those patients when they return to Guatemala each year.

“Honestly, some children scheduled for surgery are fearful, but at the end of the day, family members/caregivers are very grateful,” said Montgomery. “This trip always reminds me how fortunate I am to practice health care in the US. However, in different circumstances, I’d be willing to spend more time working in low income countries like Guatemala as the challenges and needs are great.”

During the mission trip this January, Montgomery and Ryan continued to care for hundreds of children and women with a variety of needs – helping children walk for the first time, providing wrists splint that alleviated pain in women suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, and distributing equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers to both children and elderly women. “I am very proud to say I was able to provide families with wheelchairs that fit appropriately and the family did not have to pack the kids on their backs for their trip home. I also was able to provide some children with equipment so they were able to walk for the first time,” Ryan said. “Lots of smiles were seen in our hallway!”

You may wonder what will happen to the children and women once the COTA volunteers leave for another year. Educating the Guatemala medical community is a part of the mission trip in addition to providing actual medical care. Guatemala medical providers are on the same page as the COTA volunteers to help children and women continue to reach their maximum potential. Ryan and Montgomery both provide insights and knowledge to the local community, but with the mindset that they are working with fewer resources.

“In some cases, I have been able to leave equipment for them to use in their clinics. Other times I have taken photos of equipment they have fabricated and brought those ideas back for some of our families to try!” said Ryan.

Both Montgomery and Ryan are already looking forward to returning to Guatemala in 2019 and encourage medical professionals from all over the United States to consider joining them next year.

“You have to be flexible and realize that you will be working with fewer resources than you are accustomed to,” Montgomery said. “However, I have so many great memories and there is a great deal of satisfaction derived from working alongside like-minded individuals to positively impact people who have very little means.”

To learn more about COTA and how you can help this great cause visit Children of the Americas.