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Joanna Dainton traveled all the way from her home in England to be an intern with MEDLIFE from November 2013 through May 2014 to gain relevant experience working for a non-profit in a developing country. During the internship, her experience with one community leader MEDLIFE frequently works with, Jorge Vargas, motivated her to make a difference in the community beyond what her intern duties entailed.
“I wanted to help Jorge because he was someone who I really connected with,” Joanna remembers. She says he has a lively and humorous personality, and despite his physical handicap, “his optimistic attitude was incredible,” she says. Jorge was bound to a wheelchair because of polio he contracted as a child, and Joanna wanted to help him where he needed it most: his mobility.
As Joanna recounts, Jorge was restricted to using an old, rusted wheelchair to navigate the rocky and steep terrain of his community, high in the hills of Nueva Esperanza, in Lima, Peru. With this chair, Jorge required someone else to push him around, and his work as a community leader was severely limited.
“I felt this was an unacceptable situation, especially given his full involvement in his community as a leader and organizer,” Joanna explains. “I could see that by enabling him to be independent, not only would his life be improved but the lives of those around him would be too.”
During the last stretch of her internship with MEDLIFE, Joanna launched a plan—in collaboration with MEDLIFE staff including Carlos Benavides, MEDLIFE Peru’s Director—to buy Jorge a motorized wheelchair. She would start a MEDLIFE campaign to turn his dream of having his independence again into a reality.
Upon her return to England, Joanna communicated Jorge’s story to her network of friends and family across her social media accounts, she sent out countless emails and even held fundraising events. Before long, she had reached her goal of $1000 and MEDLIFE matched her contribution to afford the motorized wheelchair.
After the funds were in, the MEDLIFE team proceeded on to the next step: finding the perfect motorized wheelchair customized to Jorge’s needs. After trial and error and months of research to find the perfect fit, as of February 2015, Jorge is comfortably navigating his way around his community with his motorized wheelchair.
Joanna feels overjoyed with the accomplishment and collaborative team effort. “It's brilliant knowing we achieved what we set out to do and have hopefully changed Jorge's life for the better,” she said.
Jorge’s newfound independence not only means he does not need to rely on friends and family to get around, but also allows him to continue his work as a community leader, which was very limited before. Helping organize MEDLIFE mobile clinics in his community was difficult for Jorge to manage previously (although his passion for helping his community enabled him to accomplish it), but now Jorge has the tools, along with the heart, to really create change.
Reflecting on her experience, Joanna says she feels an even closer connection to the communities she helped serve during her internship, despite being half way across the world. “Seeing the photos of Jorge with his new wheelchair has created a link between myself and everyone who donated and worked on the project, and Jorge and his community,” Joanna says.
Joanna’s friendship with Jorge made her feel very passionate about her campaign for his motorized wheelchair. She believes this type of connection MEDLIFE strives to achieve with its follow-up care and long-term relationships with families and communities is essential for effective change. Joanna certainly saw an opportunity to directly change someone’s life in her experience with Jorge, and encourages anyone else considering development projects to find that personal connection in order to be the most successful.
Several years of pain and hardship are finally over for MEDLIFE follow-up patient and mother of three, Nery Huaman Salas. In January of 2015, Nery had an operation to remove a troublesome tumor in her breast that she had lived with for six years, along with the antagonizing fear that it could be cancerous.
Several months before the operation, in the summer of 2014, Nery’s journey began when she first connected with MEDLIFE at a mobile clinic held in a community of Nueva Esperanza, located in the hills of Lima, Peru. Nery knew she should take advantage of the services offered at the mobile clinic because her access to health care is very limited, she explained. It was during a routine breast exam that the doctor discovered her breast tumor.
The doctor’s discovery was not news to Nery; she had lived with the tumor, a fibroadenoma, overwhelming her daily life for years. However, due to limited economic resources, receiving the appropriate medical care was never attainable.
Nery is unable to provide an income right now as a stay-at-home mother and her husband’s irregular salary of $50/week is barely enough to provide for a family of five, let alone afford an expensive operation. Nery felt trapped without the resources or ability to improve her situation.
Despite her financial obstacle, Nery frequently tried her hand at different approaches to make an operation possible, but to no avail. At one point, for example, when Nery visited a doctor at the hospital she was assigned a SIS — a health care plan for people with low economic resources — she walked away with only disappointing news.
Nery said the doctor seemed unconcerned about her tumor. He told her not to worry—she did not need an operation. Nery did not trust the doctor’s judgment and she speculates he had come to that conclusion only because her health plan would not cover follow-up care, like an operation. Disregarding the doctor’s recommendation, Nery did worry—a lot. The pain was unbearable and she feared for her health.
Just when Nery thought she was out of luck, MEDLIFE informed her that they would support her to afford the medical care she needed. “The truth is I had no other option,” Nery admitted.
From that point forward, MEDLIFE worked with Nery every step of the way; supporting her through the medical appointments like biopsies, ultrasounds, and eventually to her operation to ensure the tumor’s removal. “Before I was in significant pain,” Neary said, recounting the years of being in constant discomfort. “But now I don’t feel it anymore. I’m not in pain anymore.”
Nery is currently recovering from the operation at a family friend’s house located down the hill from her own house because the steep paths and rocky terrain make it too difficult for her to access during the healing process.
As Nery remains a follow-up patient, MEDLIFE will continue to ensure Nery gets the medical care she needs so she can live a healthy life for herself and for her children.
When Nandini Razdan’s MEDLIFE internship in Lima, Peru concluded in the spring of 2013, she returned to her home in the United States feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Nandini’s intern experience was life-changing, eye-opening, and left a significant mark on her, but she soon began wishing she had made more of an impact on the lives of those who had changed hers. “These patients graced me with an invaluable experience, but what have I done for them?” Nandini asked herself.
Nandini answered her question by revisiting the case of a patient whom she met during a patient follow-up care visit. Eduardo, a MEDLIFE follow-up patient with Cerebral Palsy, made make frequent trips to the emergency room due to difficulty breathing, where he was then forced to wait several hours each time to be seen by a physician. Eduardo’s situation frustrating to Nandini, so she knew she had to do something to help.
Remembering Eduardo’s story, Nandini decided to fundraise for an in-home breathing machine so Eduardo would not have to relive the pain and discomfort of his frequent trips to the hospital. A few Facebook posts and less than 24 hours later, Nandini reached her goal of $325 to afford the equipment. Nandini became the first MEDLIFE intern to personally fundraise for a project—but it wouldn’t be her last.
A year later, Nandini heard mention of another patient in desperate need for medical equipment he could not afford. She learned that Julio Pineda, living in the slums Lima, Peru, lost his leg due to uncontrolled diabetes, and was in need of a prosthetic replacement so that he could provide for his family as a taxi driver. Julio was able to navigate his home on crutches and was given a prosthetic leg on-loan from the hospital, but these were only temporary fixes he could not depend on long-term.
Even though Nandini concluded her intern responsibilities long before she heard of Julio Pineda’s story, MEDLIFE and the people it helps were still very important to her. Nandini seized the opportunity to help Julio the same way she helped Eduardo. “I realized that if a person is in a position to help someone, you should not hesitate to do it,” she explained.
This time, though, Nandini’s task was much greater: Julio’s prosthetic leg would cost $1,700. Though a bit daunting, Nandini admitted, the number did not deter her; it only encouraged her to get the message out about Julio’s situation to more people in her network. Though raising the necessary funds took a little longer than it did for Eduardo’s campaign, Nandini reached her second goal in only two months. She attributes the success of her campaign to persistence and the generosity of her friends and family. “People see your sincerity and are then more than willing to help you help others,” she explained.
When MEDLIFE told Julio of the good news—that he would be getting his prosthetic leg—he welled up with emotion. “I feel really happy,” said Julio. “Please tell her that I am really happy and appreciative,” he said, expressing his immense gratitude to Nandini and her supporters. As of February 2015, Julio Pineda has been given a new lease on life, made possible by Nandini’s dedication to his case. Julio was measured, prepped, suited for his prosthetic leg, and is underway to walking on two feet again.
Nandini’s efforts not only went above and beyond what the MEDLIFE internship role entails, but her work also encouraged succeeding interns to do the same. “I am so happy that the momentum was picked up by later interns for their own projects,” Nandini said. Nandini was certainly able to accomplish what she set out to do to when her internship concluded, and her impact is sure to endure. Her example continues to inspire others to do what they can to make a difference for MEDLIFE’s patients.
MEDLIFE is known for its volunteer trips, where students dedicated to public health and social justice journey across the globe to provide essential services to communities and individuals in need. It is also within MEDLIFE’s mission to expand chapter members’ educational opportunities, enabling them to gain exposure to the ideas and opinions of professionals and academics across disciplines related to Medicine, Education, and Development. A MEDLIFE member does not need to travel across the world to be introduced to new concepts or have their perspective on the world altered. They need only organize or attend a M.E.D. Talk.
M.E.D. Talks are MEDLIFE’s take on TED Talks. TED Talks take the best and brightest of their fields and give them center stage to share their ideas about Technology, Education, and Design with the world. Hundreds of speakers from across the globe have exchanged ideas, innovations, and initiatives that will change the way the world approaches challenges in the years to come. Each speaker bears their own perspectives on and solutions to problems the world faces, ready to discuss and debate the merits and shortcomings of each idea before them. Goals for change are stated, debated upon and altered. Above all, ideas are put forth for others to hear. A forum for discussing global issues enables, enlightens, and engages its participants and presenters alike. MED Talks do the same, however they take on the topics of Medicine, Education and Development and their numerous complexities.
Though it may be years before they will be on the TED stage themselves, MEDLIFE students from across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico come together every semester at their respective educational institutions to discuss topics relating to Medicine, Education, and Development. Future doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, community organizers, medical technicians, public health specialists and more collaborate to create forums for the exchange of ideas. Members of each chapter get a chance to interact with other attendees before listening to and engaging with professors and professionals from their universities and local communities. The goal of each M.E.D. Talk is to facilitate students’ professional and personal development by increasing their access to today’s specialists for the betterment of tomorrow.
During the Fall 2014 semester, MEDLIFE Chapters at Dartmouth College, MIT, and McGill University hosted their own compelling M.E.D. Talks that ranged in topics from alternative engineering methods in impoverished communities to the global response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Here are summaries of their M.E.D. Talks, each successful in their own rights. They differed in size and execution, but the purpose and outcome was the same:
Ebola continues to plague Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea and poses a threat to the global community if effective treatment and prevention methods are not employed. With the hemorrhagic fever on everyone’s mind, MEDLIFE Dartmouth, in partnership with another campus global health organization, brought in Patrice Juah, a Liberian activist, to talk about her firsthand experience as a member of an Ebola-stricken community. Ms. Juah was a member of the Young African Leaders Initiative that placed her in residence at Dartmouth for the summer of 2014. During her talk, Ms. Juah discussed her reaction to the outbreak—which escalated drastically during her absence—upon her return home, as well as the obstacles she faced when returning to the United States. Fueled by a combination of personal loss and an overwhelming sense of a gap in education for the Liberian population about how to prevent the spread of the disease, Ms. Juah helped launch the Martha Juah Education Fund. She discussed the initiative of the organization—it aims to educate students in the face of school closures—as well as the challenges the organization faced in coordinating its efforts. Ms. Juah also discussed her work with the Arterial Network, which focuses on the cultural impacts of Ebola. Its goals are to distinguish the region’s identity from the disease that has captured the globe’s attention through the power of artistic expression.
The MIT MEDLIFE Chapter hosted Professor Libby Hsu for their M.E.D. Talk in the fall. Prof. Hsu discussed her work in impoverished communities in Nepal and El Salvador. A member of D-Lab, a developmental laboratory devoted to creating and disseminating beneficial technologies for impoverished communities, Prof. Hsu’s talk revolved around her most recent work developing sustainable sanitation methods in El Salvador. The discussion expanded during the question and answer period to include the ways in which communication is critical to facilitating developmental work and Prof. Hsu’s experiences in Nepal developing concrete mixtures that are effective, affordable, and accessible.
Credit for the establishment of M.E.D. Talks goes to McGill University. The McGill University MEDLIFE Chapter hosted the first M.E.D. Talk in the fall of 2013 and continued their tradition of excellence this past fall with a four-speaker series entitled “Healthcare in Marginalized Communities.” One of the many distinguished speakers at their conference was Dr. Colin Chapman, a Killam Research Fellow at McGill University and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Chapman discussed his work with primates in Kibale National Park, Uganda and the challenges of balancing primate conservation in the face of the continual expansion of the local human population.
Another speaker that presented was Dr. Joyce Pickering, the Vice Chair for Education in McGill University’s Department of Medicine and a general internist. She talked about her work in international health and disease prevention, including current challenges facing the global community and the steps necessary to predict and respond to global disease outbreaks. Dr. Joyce was joined by Kalia De Boer, a mental health specialist and addiction counselor who worked for several years in the Inuit community of Hopedale, in Labrador, Canada.
Ms. De Boer described her experience being embedded in an isolated community of approximately 550 people and the obstacles an outsider must overcome when trying to help a community with their most intimate and sensitive problems. The final speaker included in the conference was Helen Hsu, the founder of MEDLIFE McGill and a veteran of the efforts to undue cuts in federal healthcare for people of refugee status in Canada. She discussed the unique vulnerabilities that immigrants and refugees are confronted with once they have fled to Canada.
These pioneering M.E.D. talks are just a few examples of what MEDLIFE chapters across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico are currently planning and organizing. No matter the theme or the size of the event, students and MEDLIFE members are expanding the realm of discourse about Medicine, Education, and Development at their schools.
Read about one of our volunteer's experience organizing a highly successful 50:50 campaign for her trip to Lima, Peru! Find out more about the 50:50 campaign here.
Name: Wesley Tomlinson
Amount raised: $1300
Are you a MEDLIFE chapter member?
I’m not actually in a MEDLIFE chapter. I decided to come alone with my best friend from med school. We both go into different universities so we thought it would be an amazing experience to meet up half way around the world to partake in a volunteer trip.
How did you hear about the 50:50 campaign and why did you decided to organize one?
It was on the website when i signed up to MEDLIFE. My sister who had previously been on a volunteer trip told me all about it. After reading up the benefits of the campaign on the website I knew thye campaign was for me. It became a clear decision once i knew that half of the money i raised would go towards funding my trip and the other half to helping out the community that I wanted to volunteer for.
How long before your trip did you start and finish?
I only started my campaign in October. I remember only having 60 days left until Lima, only starting the campaign a month or so before my trip. It was at this point that I started posting on social media websites and sending out e-mails. I was very lucky to have friends and family who would share my link to the page.
What did you do to be most successful with your judgment when you fundraised? Did you encounter any obstacles in the process and how did you over come that?
I tried to reach out to as many different people as possible, to see if they would be willing to donate. I was stunned with the feedback that i received, as everyone I reached out to were very supportive, financially and verbally. However, I did encounter a few obstacles. Some people chose not to respond to me, some people just ignored my requests, but you have to take these experiences on the chin and keep up the momentum.
What advice would you give to others who want to start their own campaign?
I would say just go for it! Even if you are worried about not raising any money, it can’t hurt to try. You have to think and stay positive!
MEDLIFE at Queen's university started small, but, with the dedication of a few motivated students, it grew rapidly. Read this interview with students from one of Canada's very successful chapters and what they do for fundraising events, member recruitment, and their goals for this coming year!
When and how did your chapter begin?
MEDLIFE Queen’s began in the fall of 2012. Inspired by the success of the McGill chapter, we wanted to provide students at Queen’s University with opportunities to contribute to MEDLIFE’s mission. What started as five friends sitting around a kitchen table has now grown into a major source for student involvement opportunities on campus.
What strategies do you use to promote MEDLIFE on campus?
To promote MEDLIFE on campus, we strive to maintain visibility, both in person and online via social media. Whenever possible, we try to establish a face-to-face connection with students – whether that be through clubs fairs, class talks, or simply by setting up at a table in the student center, we do our best to ensure MEDLIFE Queen’s remains an available and approachable organization. In addition, we work to maintain a strong social media presence, focusing on eye-catching images and graphics. We post these not only on our own page, but also within various Facebook groups to maximize our reach. By ensuring our online presence remains professional and visually impactful, we feel we set ourselves apart from other groups on campus.
What system do you use to recruit new members? What process does a new member go through once part of the chapter?
To recruit new members, we rely a great deal on clubs fairs and events – this makes September a very busy month for us! We also send information through department email lists periodically throughout the year to promote new opportunities for involvement. Our chapter is organized into a number of committees, namely Mobile Clinics, Fundraising, Outreach & Education, Conference, and Expansion. These committees plan and execute various initiatives and require an application and interview to sit on. For students wishing to join the chapter in a more casual way, there are many ways to get involved, including volunteering, socials, outreach events, and talks.
What activities do you organize to keep your members interested throughout the year?
Throughout the year, our chapter hosts a number of fundraisers and other events. This past semester we have held a Western-themed fundraising event at a downtown bar, volunteered at a local soup kitchen, set up a “MEDMail” booth to allow students to send postcards to MEDLIFE staff and volunteers, and have held a number of general meetings. Next semester, we are looking forward to a benefit concert, 5k run, global development conference, and much more!
What are your goals as a chapter for this academic year (2014-2015)?
For this academic year, our goals include running three successful mobile clinic trips in addition to a development corps trip. We are also looking forward to new initiatives, such as our benefit concert and conference, as well as continuing annual events such as our 5k. In addition, we have placed a greater focus this year on outreach and education activities, with the aim of increasing on-campus engagement with health and human rights issues, both locally and globally.
Claudia Pinto never worried about her health. She has a resilient immune system, she says. She has never become sick enough to merit a visit to the doctor. Claudia’s priority is not her own well-being, anyway. She became a mother when she was 23 years old, and since then, has always put her children’s needs before her own.
Claudia’s children never had a father figure; she supports her small family single-handedly. To accomplish this challenging task, Claudia works unforgivingly long hours as a housemaid in order to feed her children and afford very basic living expenses. Without a moment of free time to assess her own physical condition, let alone manage time off from work to visit the doctor, Claudia never had the resources to even consider the possibility of developing a serious health problem.
When a MEDLIFE mobile clinic came through Claudia’s neighborhood in San Juan de Miraflores in August of 2014, she initially hesitated, assuming it would conflict with work. Before the clinic, however, Claudia managed a few free hours from her commitments, and found it too convenient to pass up. She join her neighbors and attended the clinic with her son, his health being her priority, of course.
Claudia visited the OB/GYN station to take advantage of the free breast exam and pap smear, of which she has only had five or six in her life—a number incredibly low for a woman in her forties. During her check-up, the OB/GYN informed her of two discoveries Claudia would need to attend to. Claudia was first told she had a urinary tract infection, something easily remedied. The doctor’s second piece of news caught her off guard a bit. Claudia was informed of a small lump in her breast. The doctor at the mobile clinic expressed her concern and told Claudia to follow-up as soon as possible.
“Well, this simply won’t work,” Claudia thought while her mind immediately skimmed over a whole host of reasons for why a growth in her breast was an utter inconvenience: lack of finances, the need to constantly work, responsibility to care for her children, etc. Claudia left the mobile clinic in a hurry, attempting to run away from the new discovery, though she did acknowledge her breast had been in pain for a while. Regardless, Claudia wanted it to disappear so she started by ridding it from her mind and went about her routine as usual.
Though Claudia tried to escape her new reality, she somewhat confronted it by confiding in a friend, one who could lend her some guidance. Claudia’s friend had suffered from breast cancer for ten years and felt very strongly about Claudia’s new discovery. “Please take care of yourself,” pleaded Claudia’s friend. “Don’t suffer if you don’t have to. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you.” And with that, Claudia was convinced to visit a nearby medical “post” to ask for medical advice.
At the small community clinic, Claudia found out the cost to remove the Fibroadenoma, a non-cancerous tumor, from her breast would be 210 Peruvian soles, or 70 USD, which Claudia simply did not have. She makes enough money to feed her family and pay for household expenses but is never able to save that large of an amount.
Feeling trapped in her situation, Claudia began to panic. She was frightened for her health and for her children’s well-being. Most of all, Claudia was afraid of the possibility of not finding a resolution. She thought there was no way out.
Her luck changed in October 2014. Claudia reconnected with MEDLIFE at a community meeting in her neighborhood that was held to discuss upcoming projects and winter mobile clinics. During the meeting, Claudia approached MEDLIFE staff explaining her situation— and she was immediately recognized. She was a patient who they tried to contact after the August mobile clinic but were unable to reach her. Claudia and MEDLIFE realized it was a misunderstanding, and moved forward to solve the problem.
After a few preliminary appointments with Claudia, MEDLIFE scheduled her operation and she had her tumor removed on November 5, 2014. The organization covered all related expenses including medical appointments, the operation and medications. Claudia said, for the first time in years, she felt fully supported, not only financially, but also emotionally. At first, Claudia could not believe that someone outside of her family cared enough about her health to help. She feels extremely grateful to MEDLIFE for discovering her ailments, because otherwise she would have continued living her life without knowledge that she was ill.
Since her experience with MEDLIFE, Claudia is determined to spread the word to her neighbors about how important it is to care for their health. She recognizes that for people living in the hills of Lima, proper medical care is neglected for many reasons, including lack of access, time, and money. Though she has been lucky with good health up until this point, she knows the situation is far different for many of her neighbors. She wants to encourage others to not only be vigilant of their health, but also take advantage of help when it comes along.
Read about one of our volunteer's experience organizing a highly successful 50:50 campaign for her trip to Cusco, Peru! Find out more about the 50:50 campaign here.
Name: Aubrey Kuester
Amount raised: $1285
What are you studying? I study at Florida State University and I’m studying exercise science.
How did you hear about the 50:50 campaign? I heard about the 50:50 campaign when I signed up through the MEDLIFE website. The campaign is advertised on the first page, and it seemed like the easiest and most effective way to raise money.
Why did you decided to organize a 50:50 campaign? I decided to organize a 50:50 campaign to not only raise money for my own trip but I also wanted to help the communities in any way that I could, and I know it would be easier for my relatives donate.
How many weeks did your campaign last? I started my 50:50 campaign roughly a month before my trip and I reached out to all my relatives and friends in my community to help me make this trip possible.
What did you do to make your campaign most successful? What I did specifically to raise money was send emails to most of my friends and relatives, also my old coaches and teachers that I’ve had in the past. I wrote a personal email, not just a generic one they provided on the website, and I sent it personally to all my relatives with their name and my own link to my personal page. I think it was really effective because half the money was donated to Cusco. People were more willing to donate rather than the money just going to me. It ended up being a great advantage for my campaign and I ended raising a lot of money that way.
Did you encounter any obstacles in the process? How did you overcome them? It was a little difficult getting people to donate online, some people were skeptical about putting their credit card through an Internet system, but I think the 50:50 campaign is a really secure and easy way to donate.
How was organizing a 50:50 campaign a positive experience? The 50:50 campaign was extremely rewarding, specially after I came here to Cusco and witnessed it first hand how little the people here are working with and the conditions that they have to deal with. Knowing that I personally raised a significant amount of money, enough for medicine for 90 people and supplies so they can use in a daily basis, just made it extremely rewarding.
What do you think of your volunteer trip? Its been extremely rewarding so far, especially seeing the smiles on the kids faces and actually been hands on and experiencing the culture here. It has been extremely worth it.
How do you feel about the impact you have made by raising money to support a local community? Before I came to Cusco, I didn’t know what to expect. Personally, witnessing the conditions that people have to deal with here, and how little medical attention they have, what little access they have to proper medicine and education makes an organization like MEDLIFE really important. It has such a positive effect on the community since we are not asking for any money, we are giving free medical attention to people that truly need it, that they might have to drive or walk hours to get just basic health care. It is something that is very close to my heart and I couldn’t be happier about being here.
Women of all ages are encouraged to conduct self-breast exams at least once a month. Despite the age-inclusive recommendation, however, pre-teen girls are not usually expected to monitor their breast health as closely as, say, middle-aged women. Generally speaking, girls on the brink of puberty seldom have to worry about finding lumps in their newly emerging bumps; younger women are at a much lower risk of developing breast-related health complications. Therefore, when 13-year-old Maricielo Garcia felt soreness and a small growth in her right breast, she thought nothing of it.
She thought, “maybe it will go away with time,” but the pain persisted and the lump grew, as did Maricielo’s concern.
The pain Maricielo started experiencing in early 2014 caused her mild discomfort, but she was not sure what to make of the occasional soreness and small bouts of unfamiliar nipple discharge. She thought, “maybe it will go away with time,” but the pain persisted and the lump grew, as did Maricielo’s concern.
Maricielo’s fears were confirmed in the spring of 2014 when her aunt brought her to a MEDLIFE mobile clinic in their district of Villa Maria del Triunfo near their home in Lima. After passing through the general medicine station at the clinic, Maricielo was directed to visit the obstetrician/gynecologist. She placed herself in line alongside her older female neighbors who were waiting their turn for pap smears and breast cancer screenings. Needless to say Maricielo felt out of place.
When it was Maricielo’s turn, the gynecologist investigated the area in pain and identified the existence of a lump. For Maricielo, the situation became all too real when the gynecologist said she would need a follow-up appointment at a nearby hospital.
MEDLIFE enrolled Maricielo in the follow-up patient program and scheduled her a visit with a specialist at a hospital. Young Maricielo maintained a mature composer as she patiently endured ultrasounds, mammograms, and long hours through meetings with doctors, all to arrive at a diagnosis. Maricielo was told she had a fibroadenoma in her right breast; it was a large, benign tumor composed of connective tissue, liquid and fat that continued to grow and cause her pain. The tumor would need to be removed with a surgery.
Although the tumor was not causing any internal damage to Maricielo’s body—it was simply an annoyance—the pain she was in merited a surgery on its own, let alone the side effects being extremely embarrassing for a girl of her age. The nipple discharge constantly stained her shirts and the pain from the tumor inhibited her from partaking in physical activity with other children.
Developing a breast tumor was certainly not something Maricielo expected when she moved ten hours away to Lima from her home in Trujillo, Peru in 2013. Maricielo was relocated to Peru’s capital for access to a better education and more lucrative job opportunities. Maricielo’s father back in Trujillo struggled to provide for all of his children after his wife past away five years ago. His sisters in Lima, Maricielo’s aunts, sympathized with his situation and offered to lessen his financial burden by caring for his eldest daughter. So, Maricielo moved to Lima.
When MEDLIFE met with the aunt Maricielo currently lives with, she explained that she wanted to support her brother in any way she could afford to; in this case, that meant being a mother figure for her niece. Maricielo’s aunt has four children of her own, so she and her sister share the financial responsibility of taking care of Maricielo. They are splitting expenses for food and school until Maricielo is old enough to support herself and start sending money back to her family in Trujillo. Although more financially stable than Maricielo’s father, her aunts certainly could not afford this unexpected medical expense related to their niece’s health, so they were grateful for MEDLIFE’s support.
Maricielo, her aunts, and all involved parties hoped for a swift and painless process— a meeting with the doctor, the diagnosis, a surgery, and speedy recovery. Unfortunately, a series of external factors overthrew the projected timeline.
The hospital that was initially in charge of Maricielo’s case entered into months of widespread and tiring employee protests, which essentially barred access to any medical care that was not an emergency. Not wanting to reopen Maricielo’s case at a new hospital, everyone waited hoping the strikes would subside after a few weeks. Unfortunately, the strikes dragged on, the hospital remained closed, and Maricielo’s case could not proceed for several months.
The delay not only diminished Maricielo’s spirits, but also incited a feeling of mistrust in MEDLIFE. Maricielo and her aunt’s inherent skepticism of aid organizations in general began to shape their opinion of MEDLIFE. People in these communities are all too used to other NGO’s and political organizations that often promise support for new beginnings, but seldom deliver. In their minds, MEDLIFE was just another organization getting their hopes up only to disappoint.
Despite the obstacle, MEDLIFE would never abandon Maricielo’s case. When it became apparent that the strike would not be resolved anytime soon, and impatience levels continued to rise, MEDLIFE pulled Maricielo’s case from the idle hospital and started it anew at a fully functional one. Doctors at this hospital treated Maricielo’s as they would any new patient and started her case from scratch. After a stretch of repetitive exams, Maricielo’s new doctors boiled their findings down to the all-too-familiar diagnosis. This time, however, no hospital strike would inhibit Maricielo from finally getting the benign but obtrusive tumor removed.
After months of anticipation, the wait was finally over; Maricielo went under the knife in December of 2014 to shed the undesirable fibroadenoma. In this case, MEDLIFE covered all related expenses including the operation, appointments and transportation, and coordinated all hospital visits to ensure Maricielo received the best care.
As doctors predicted, the operation went smoothly, and within a week Maricielo was going about her life as a normal 13-year-old girl again. Though residual soreness from the operation incision still lingered during recovery, no pain lessened Maricielo’s excitement to have overcome this obstacle.
I became involved with MEDLIFE during my senior year of college, at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada after going on a Mobile Clinic trip with MEDLIFE in December 2013, to Riobamba, Ecuador. Although I was already passionate about MEDLIFE and its mission, my experience in Ecuador really sparked my interest to become more involved, so I applied to be a year-long intern at the MEDLIFE National Office in Lima, Peru. After my acceptance in the spring, I was avidly waiting to get here, learn some Spanish, and start working with such a great organization.
I finally landed in Lima after a long, 14-hour day of flying, first from Montreal to Miami, and then from Miami to Lima. After such a long day, I was excited to settle into the new apartment with the other interns. While waiting for my bags, I fervently hoped that Tim, the Student Affairs Director, would be waiting outside to pick me up, as I had left my cell phone back in Canada. Thankfully he was, and we headed out into the foggy night to drive back to the apartment. As we passed the streetlights and traffic lights in the cab, it was hard to get a sense of what the city was really like, but I was excited to be here nonetheless.
I’ve been very blessed throughout my life to have traveled and lived in many countries across the globe – visiting places in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Besides Antarctica, South America was the one part of the world that I wanted to explore but had never had the chance. After living in Lima for just over three months, I’ve had a wonderful time learning about and experiencing the city, which can be both charming and chaotic.
One of my first times out in the field was in September, when I went on a patient care follow-up visit in a district called Villa Maria del Triunfo. The “slums” we work in are located right outside of Lima - only a 30 minute bus ride away from the office. There are a large number of shanty houses built up into the hills, all of which usually lack running water, electricity and flooring. Because these houses are located high up in the hills, one of MEDLIFE's main goals is to build staircases throughout these communities. These staircases will prevent injuries from falling, which has become a serious concern for these people.
The patient we saw on that Tuesday had just received a surgery sponsored by MEDLIFE to remove a lump from her breast. We were interviewing her about her experience with MEDLIFE, and asked her about the follow-up medication that she would need. Hearing this patient talk about how much she appreciated MEDLIFE was an eye-opening experience.. I could really tell how happy she was that we were there to help and her genuine gratitude was very touching.
Since that first field day in September, I’ve learned so much about MEDLIFE, the people we work with, and living in Lima. It has definitely been an unforgettable experience! These past three months have been filled with new experiences for which I am very grateful. Among them, working in the field with our MEDLIFE nurses, helping a community through the building of staircase, and having the opportunity to build relationships in Lima both in and out of MEDLIFE. Though varied and unique, each of these experiences makes me more certain about my goal to continue serving communities in need and doing humanitarian aid work during my career. Although three months have already passed, I’m looking forward to spending another six months here, and learning everything that MEDLIFE has to offer.