Simon helps treat patients who walk to Guatemala hospital; father, daughter participate in medical mission
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Madison anesthetist Darrel Simon experienced a new challenge in February. He spent a week in Guatemala on a medical mission trip -- a trip he heard about through his daughter, Dr. Deb Simon, who is a general ob-gyn physician in La Crosse, Wis.
Darrel Simon of Madison stands with his daughter, Dr. Deb Simon. Both participated in a medical mission trip in February that took them to San Raymundo, Guatemala.
"Deb had been there before," Simon said. "This was her second trip."
She had encouraged Simon to attend because the team is typically short on members who can provide anesthesia for the patients.
The trip is organized by Refuge International, which sets up medical mission trips to three areas of Guatemala -- San Raymundo, Chocola and Sarstun. San Raymundo is about one hour northwest of Guatemala City and is where Simon's group was stationed.
Chocola is located in western Guatemala. Sarstun is a remote village located between Belize and Guatemala, which is accessible only from the water. Each area has limited medical services available.
Teams arrive in San Raymundo three times a year. Simon said the people know when the team arrives and how long they'll be there.
"The people who come walk to the hospital," Simon said.
People start lining up at about 2 a.m. and wait for the hospital to open at 7 a.m.
The team's purpose is to provide surgeries for the local residents. During this particular one-week period, 34 surgeries were completed, along with 469 clinic visits and 90 surgery consults. Medications were distributed to 740 people, 193 labs were completed and two babies were born.
Simon said the first baby arrived shortly after the team appeared at the hospital when a lady showed up in labor. Simon's daughter was immediately pulled away, and Simon soon followed to provide anesthesia for the C-section.
Had the team not been present, Simon said, this woman most likely wouldn't have survived. Simon said she wasn't supposed to have any more children because of an injury to her pelvis.
"I did a spinal and three minutes later she had a baby," Simon said.
Of the procedures completed, Simon said, many were conducted to address hernias or remove gal bladders. Others were tubal ligations.
With many procedures, recovery was short and patients left the same way they arrived -- on foot.
"The next day they're up and out and very grateful," he said.
The last day, Simon said, the team had been put on notice not to complete any big surgeries when the next patient arrived.
"A guy came in the last day with a hernia," Simon said.
A medical team got started, but soon found out the patient had a hernia and a bowel obstruction, which required a much more extensive surgery.
Simon said team members checked on him the following morning, but had to send him on his way because the hospital was closing until the next team arrived in a few months.
The patient was another example of someone who probably wouldn't have survived had the team not performed the surgery, but at the same time, Simon wonders how the 72-year-old man recovered and whether he's OK.
"It was a rewarding week to see how you can do some of these things," Simon said. "You do what you can while you're there and be thankful you can do something."
Simon said one of the bigger challenges was working with the equipment provided -- some worked and some didn't. That being the case, he said, a typical gal bladder surgery which would normally take about an hour in the U.S. lasted closer to four hours.
There were some heart-breaking moments as well. Simon said his daughter had one patient who was there for a hysterectomy, but when they started the surgery, they found cancer that had metastasized to several places. Through an interpreter, she had to break the news and soon both Simon's daughter and the interpreter were crying.
"The patient took it OK," he said. "She just wanted to know."
Simon was one of six anesthetists on the trip, he said, which was unique. Other members of the team included doctors and a pharmacist who set up the anesthesia trays for the surgeries.
Scrub techs were in short supply, he said, but volunteers were soon drafted to help fill that need.