July 21, 2014 9:35 AM

Meet the Patient: Byron Buñay

Written by Diana Sotomayor

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As a summer intern in MEDLIFE at Ecuador I was given the responsibility of giving follow up visits to patients that MEDLIFE doctors had previously seen in mobile clinics. These patients have come from various communities and have been referred to hospitals in Riobamba because they have specific conditions that require seeing a specialist.  One of the patients I was assigned to meet Byron Buñay, a two year old with a cleft palate who MEDLIFE met a year ago. MEDLIFE had found him in a very delicate and malnourished state as he was unable to naturally ingest food due to his condition; his case had once been a matter of life or death. MEDLIFE knew they had to do something to help, so firstly, they paid for his first restorative surgery.

When I first met Byron it was on the day of his medical evaluation in the Riobamba hospital, he smiled at me as if I was his lifelong friend and he offered me a genuine; adult-like handshake immediately after seeing me.  As I introduced myself to his mother, my initial thoughts were that the little guy that I had just met seemed too mature, happy and healthy to be the two year-old cleft palate patient I had been told of. I was sure this couldn’t be Byron, and assumed it was his older brother.

I thought we were waiting for Byron to arrive, so in the meantime I asked this spirited toddler some basic questions one would normally ask a little one like him:  What´s your name? How are you? How old are you? Excited, he answered my questions immediately while making very expressive hand gestures. At first I could not understand him and I figured he was speaking Quichua, like his mom and locals at his community did.  I asked again, in case it was me that was misunderstanding what he was trying to say with so much emotion.  He tried again, this time determined to answer my questions but only sounds came out of his mouth.   Aware of my clear inability to understand what he intended to be explicit and eloquent responses; he finally gave up and smiled sympathetically.  Suddenly I realized that the bold child that had greeted me with such vividness was the cleft palate patient I was waiting for, he had grown and gained weight since his last picture was taken in his first surgery but that was still unable to verbalize words due to his internal oral physiology.

I then joined Byron’s parents Elsa and Raúl in their long wait for the pediatric surgeon’s confirmation that he could be pre-admitted for surgery, the couple narrated the difficulties they have been through with their child’s condition and how desperate they were a year ago to find medical help for him.  As Elsa recalled: “He was very skinny because he could not eat, breast milk used to come out through his nose every time I tried to feed him.  We had to give him iron supplements through a pipette in order to counteract his malnourishment”.  She could not be more grateful for the immediateness of MEDLIFE’s mobilization to help her find and obtain the specialized medical care her baby urgently needed.

She also told me that after MEDLIFE financially supported them in Byron’s first restorative surgery, the baby’s feeding difficulties relieved significantly as he was able to incorporate soft foods such as grains and bland fruits in his limited diet which had allowed him to gain around 30 pounds.  No wonder I could not recognize him when I first met him! Even though he still had a long way to go in terms of achieving a full recuperation that would allow him to eat anything and articulate his first words, she could not have been more relieved that their child had been saved.

Byron´s father Raúl joined his mother and me as we talked just about everything including the land that they farm, the products that they sell in the market to earn a little bit of money on a daily basis and, what I did not expect was that he even asked about Puerto Rican politics!   Encouraged by the non-stop conversation, he casually mentioned a small detail they had not told me before and what he described had been a “complicated morning” … It turns out that a day that should have been naturally emotional for any parent whose child will be soon submitted to surgery, became even more stressful than expected when the front tire of the car in which they were travelling blew up during their 4 hour journey and got them into a minor car accident.  The Police showed up quickly and generously offered the family transportation to the hospital where I met Byron and his mom while his dad went into the ER because of minor bruises in his face and arms.  Thankfully he received immediate medical help and was able to participate in his child’s preparation for surgery.  Talk about a complicated morning!

Byron was successfully submitted to his second restorative surgery on the following day and spent the next 2 days in the hospital at Riobamba under rigorous medical care.  I was given the opportunity to visit him and of course, he received me with a big bright smile.  His strong parents could not find enough words to thank MEDLIFE for the medical and financial support that the organization had given them throughout the past year.

Byron Buñay is now recovering from his surgery in his community in the Alausí Canton, where I plan to visit him in a couple of weeks to track his progress.  MEDLIFE will continue supporting Byron’s family in his follow up medical appointments in Riobamba until their doctor announces that he is ready for the third and hopefully final surgery that will fully close the upper roof of his mouth and allow him to articulate his first words.

I can’t wait to hear what this charismatic child has been waiting to say for so long.  My best wishes for Byron and his beautiful family!

July 11, 2014 8:36 AM

Dileep Mandali's Intern Journal

Written by Dileep Mandali

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I had the goal of getting back to Peru since December 2012. I had participated in two MEDLIFE’s volunteer trips to Ecuador and Peru, respectively. What started as a ticket to a week-long “vacation” in a Latin American country, with humanitarian work on the side, resulted in me becoming very passionate about the work that MEDLIFE does. Although the underlying problems embodying poverty are different in Ecuador and Peru, my experiences on both trips played an influential role on my future and my goal of actively advocating MEDLIFE’s ideals at the main Ohio State’s campus and abroad. It was a speech given by a single mother of two: Carmen Solano, that particularly sparked my interest in pursuing an internship position at MEDLIFE.  

It was Friday, December 21, 2012, and I, along with more than 30 fellow Buckeyes, stood in front of a staircase that was soon to be inaugurated. A lot of hard-work and sweat went into building this staircase that would soon be a tremendous help to many walking up and down the steep hills of Laderas de Nueva Esperanza. Whether simply traveling to work in the morning, or grabbing buckets of water for daily chores, the people of the community could now walk without fear of accidents, as the once treacherous path was now safe. People who are unaware of MEDLIFE may not understand its work. Well, I would say influential stories such as Carmen’s are a perfect example of MEDLIFE’s ideals – supporting and helping those that are in need.

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Carmen Solano was a single mother of two, struggling to support her family. Soon after she was diagnosed with cancer, she was laid off from her job, placing her in deeper turmoil. When MEDLIFE stepped in to help, they not only supported her through treatment but also with  physical infrastructure around her house to ease her travels to treatment. In addition to the assistance MEDLIFE offered Carmen, they also worked to improve the livelihood of her community. Since then, Carmen became a vocal advocate of MEDLIFE’s goals around her community and encouraged her neighbors to take preventive measures provided by MEDLIFE towards better health. As Carmen gave an emotional speech at the inauguration on that December afternoon, describing her experiences and thanking MEDLIFE and its volunteers, I knew I wanted to do return in the future to do more.

Nevertheless, the goal of getting (back) to Peru was months of work and seemed improbable. As I sat in the reserved conference room at The Ohio State University for my internship interview, it could have just been the nerves but I began to question whether I would be able to ‘survive’ an entire summer in Lima, Peru. I have extremely limited fluency in Spanish, my sister is scheduled for a series of planned surgeries this summer, and I may need to retake the grueling exam called MCAT in order pursue my dream of becoming a physician, obstacles that seemed too large to surmount while away in a foreign country. When I informed the staff at MEDLIFE of my situation, I believed that I would be stripped from this potential opportunity, as I was not the only individual applying who was very passionate about MEDLIFE’s goals and its efforts to improve the lives of those in poverty. However, they were understanding of my situation, acknowledged the vast amount of work I placed into Ohio State’s MEDLIFE chapter, and once they offered me the opportunity they were extremely helpful in planning the dates of my internship, a sure sign that they take great pride in their work and their staff.

After a month of a busy summer “break” and a fifteen hour journey riddled with flight delays, I finally arrived in Lima. I made my way towards the exit of the airport with my long face and blood-shot eyes, hoping to quickly make it to my new home for the summer and get a good night’s rest. However, as I exited customs, I soon found myself looking for a sign that has either my name or ‘MEDLIFE’ written on it. I relentlessly walked around the perimeter of a crowd waiting to pick up their guests from the airport with no luck; a little panic began to set in me. As I tiredly walked around the crowd again, I spotted a little girl holding a sign that read “MEDLIFE” in big, red letters. As I made my way towards them, Amparo, a staff member at MEDLIFE, who had taken on the responsibility of picking me up from the airport, recognized me as a mobile clinic participant from two years ago. She and her family members then proceeded to warmly greet and welcome me to Peru.

As we exited the airport, I saw the familiar environment congested with automobiles. Soon, Amparo engaged me in a conversation to learn about my journey as her family members wished me ‘goodbye’ and ‘good-luck’. Along the way to my new home, I remembered again why I am so attracted by MEDLIFE: too often, people work in a profession in which they lack interest. This is not true of anyone involved with MEDLIFE. From patients to staff to volunteers, everyone in MEDLIFE takes a keen interest in the well-being of others. Perhaps, this is why I felt so comfortable arriving in Peru, despite my lack of Spanish fluency. Because those that I have interacted with and will continue to work with truly care about medicine, education, and development for low income families everywhere.

 

education-blog-alex-2014Education is a characteristic that people are usually quick to judge. What does it exactly mean when someone says they received a good or bad education? Can one quantify their entire education into two such categories? No matter what country, city, or community someone is in, each person is going to have a different meaning of “good” and “bad”. Someone may think that they have received a good education while another person at the same school taking the same classes may think they received a bad education. Therefore, some situations are hard to judge, but Peru’s system is different. It is very clear and distinctive when observing the quality of education.

Private schools “… are not operated by a public authority but controlled and managed, whether for profit or not, by a private body such as a nongovernmental organization, religious body, special interest group, foundation or business enterprise” (Trading Economics).  Depending on what private school the family decides, it can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred Nuevos Soles to thousands of American dollars per month.  Many families in Peru try and make sure that they send their children to private school because the education and structure is generally better.

Every year, private enrollment continues to raise at least by 8% or more. Depending on whom you are talking to, it could be considered quite a stupendous increase or, conversely, a microscopic increase.The other type of school that Peru has is public schools.

There are two main types of primary public schools- regular teaching and multigrade schools. Multigrade schools are made up of students who are not in the same grade but are placed into a classroom with each other and one teacher. These types of schools are very popular in countryside and jungle schools. Public education is supposed to be free but sometimes there are fees that come along with it.  Many times the teachers are not paid properly so they are absent a lot. Protests are common, so when a protest occurs, class is cancelled until the protest is over or until the teacher decides to come back. Due to low budgeting the infrastructure is weak and materials are scarce.

Looking at a census done on public schools in 2010, only 18.3% of the public schools were considered to be in good condition. This means that 18.3% of the schools have working toilets, workbooks and materials for the students, electricity, and appropriate and qualified teachers. Peru has had a very difficult time setting standards for education with students and teachers. The Ministry of Education was the first to create standards for Peruvian education. They started to establish a so-called five-year education during the years of 1980 to 1985.

Nothing really big happened until 1993 when the minister spread a new regulation of the organization and functions of the Ministry, and is effective rationalization with leaving workers to reorganization. The office of Educational Infrastructure, which is a sub- division within the Ministry of Education coordinates the demands and needs for location, construction, equipment and maintenance of educational infrastructure (MINEDU).The office of Education Infrastructure works with the International Bank and Inter-American Development Bank when obtaining loans. Recently in 2004, a loan agreement was made called Education Program in Rural Areas.

The purpose of this loan was to raise the level of learning of children and youth in rural areas- trying to close the inequality gap between rural and urban areas. They designed intervention strategies organized into three components to improve educational quality and efficiency. These were, “increase access, improve quality, and expand the efficiency in education management” (MINEDU).

Thereafter, the Peruvian education system has undergone major changes and tremendous progress in terms of infrastructure and quality, although much still remains to be improved.  

July 10, 2014 8:06 AM

Aaron Sandfield's Intern Journal

Written by Aaron Sandfield

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I arrived to Lima on Friday June 4th in a familiar place but with a new feeling of nostalgia, for it was only a year prior that I participated in my first-ever mobile clinic to Lima, Peru with my MEDLIFE chapter at the University of Michigan (U of M).  As I headed towards baggage claim, I could not help but reminisce on how I felt when twenty U of M students and I entered Peru for the first time: excited, nervous, unaccustomed, and incredibly sleep-deprived.  And while I exited the airport with many of the same feelings, this time I felt particularly at ease, like this was a place I had known my entire life.  Looking for my name in the sea of taxi drivers courting me, I headed over to the cab driver holding a “Sanfield” card and I was off to my apartment for some much needed rest and water.

Lima was exactly as I had remembered it.  Walking down Benevides, I passed the shops carrying various patterned cloths, market places selling fresh fruits and vegetables and tourist shops with amusing t-shirts and alpaca figurines.  For my first meal back, a fellow intern and I went to a café located near my apartment complex.  Since my Spanish had yet to be polished off, I told our waiter, “Quiero su plato favorito,” which apparently entailed a cold Inka Cola and a chicken sandwich with mayo and pineapple.  I headed over to the MEDLIFE office to meet the team and get a formal tour and felt relieved to be surrounded by people who were as passionate about the work MEDLIFE does as I had been for the last two years.  My first assignment was to join the group currently in Lima on their staircase inauguration day.

The staircase inauguration was exciting; it was the culmination of the volunteers and community members of the impoverished towns of Lima, week’s work. The end result was a staircase built from scratch..  Students from numerous universities from Iowa, Maryland, California, and as far as Puerto Rico painted the prominent MEDLIFE logo along with their school logos at the base of the staircase, while others painted the individual steps a glossy MEDLIFE red.  When the paint had dried and the final tree had been planted alongside the banister, mobile clinic participants spoke about how the week had changed their perspective on poverty, community, and culture. The ceremonial hammer smashing of beer started the festivities. Community members in traditional dress danced to local music and quickly pulled in the students to share a celebratory dance. Volunteering breaks down pre-conceived social structures created back home and it brings people together regardless of cultural or economic background. There is nothing I enjoy more than to see people with completely different backgrounds become friends through the act of assisting those less fortunate. The event was an excellent way to start my internship.

I also had the opportunity to join the rest of the group during their various tourist activities on Saturday.   From penguin and seal watching to sand boarding in the desert, the entire day was a total blast.  Despite being winter, it was gloriously sunny and unusually warm, making the day even more special.  We culminated a fantastic day by going to a winery and tasting numerous different wines and Pisco, a Peruvian brandy, all which had a number of different names like: baby-maker, divorce etc.  I could not think of a better sales strategy than giving wine to students who are going to leave all of their new friends, a country they’ve come to love, and their dawning realization that they forgot to buy souvenirs for their parents.  Dancing the entire bus ride home to the beat of Peruvian pop music, we ended the long day with a pizza dinner and hugs good-bye.

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Being that I am only a couple days into my trip, my goals are simple

  1. To enjoy my time in Lima as much as possible
  2. To travel to Cuzco, hike the Inca Trail, and finally visit the much eluded Macchu Picchu
  3. To meet as many mobile clinic participants as possible and have them return to the United States with a new purpose of raising awareness of socioeconomic inequalities. I hope the volunteers will encourage more of their classmates to participate in future mobile clinics
July 7, 2014 9:06 AM

Meet The Patient: Melissa Díaz

Written by Suzanna Kane

melissa-dias1Last week we joined Janet Reynoso, MEDLIFE Community Coordinator, on some visits to potential new MEDLIFE patients. Janet has been working closely with MEDLIFE for the past two years as a Community Coordinator. She is well known around the area and within MEDLIFE as you really cannot miss her! She is never seen without her microphone. Janet uses the microphone while walking around neighbourhoods, to attract as much attention as possible, informing everyone about MEDLIFE and encourages them to visit a mobile clinic.

Janet is incredibly dedicated to improving the lives of those in her community. When the mobile clinics are not running she continues to work hard to find those who are most in need of help and support. She explains to us that the most extreme cases of poverty are found at the tops of the hills, where the residents have to navigate impossible hillsides and will be living without running water and often no electricity. However, that is not to say that the residents lower down the hillside, who may have slightly more desirable living situations, do not also need help.

That is the case for Melissa Díaz. She lives with nine other family members in a bigger than your average home at the bottom of the hillside. Janet tells us that although others may be envious of their lifestyle, Melissa and her family are in desperate need of MEDLIFE’s support. Melissa is 15 years old and has Scoliosis; a medical condition that means ones spine is curved into the shape of an S. She is in constant pain and not able to do many activities other than go to school, and even that is sometimes too much. Sitting at her desk all day is extremely uncomfortable for her. Within the hour we were at her home she stayed very quite, letting her grandma do all the talking. Although Melissa had an operation scheduled last year, the recent doctor’s strikes have meant she has had to reschedule it a number of times and still continues to wait.

After meeting Melissa for the first time and assessing the family’s socioeconomic position, MEDLIFE have created a plan to do all they can to help the situation. The first step is of course to ensure the operation date is set. The most efficient way of doing this is to use MEDLIFE connections to find a doctor and specialist who can take on the case, which our coordinators are currently working on. The insurance Melissa has will help cover the cost of the operation, however that will not include the cost of the post operation rehabilitation necessary for Melissa to make a full recovery. Therefore, once the operation has happened, MEDLIFE will cover the cost for the rehabilitation, as well as accompanying Melissa to the appointments to ensure the care she is getting is the best.

Though there is still progress to be made, there is now hope for Melissa and her family that in the near future she can live a more carefree and confortable life. 

July 1, 2014 3:05 PM

Alex Troyer's Intern Journal

Written by Alex Troyer

alex2My name is Alex Troyer and I’m a junior at Eastern Washington University studying Therapeutic Recreation.  In the future I hope to go to graduate school to study Global Health, so when I came across MEDLIFE while researching NGOs here in Peru, it sounded like a great opportunity. Learning about its focus on improving medical health for the poorest communities in Peru and elsewhere, really impressed me. I knew it was an organization I would like to be a part of, and one that could offer me insight into how global health research can contribute to community development.

From a young age I have strongly believed one should always follow their heart, take life one day at a time, to never give up, and travel whenever you are able. I believe that people should always donate to local charities or non-profits. If you don’t have the money, than volunteer. If you don’t have time to volunteer ,make the time.  In today’s society, people are a little too wrapped up in their non-stop working lifestyle that they forget to take a step back, relax, and help others.

It was the chance to study abroad through my degree that originally led me to Peru. During my freshman year in college, I decided I wanted to take an adventure to a country that could possibly change my life. I had three criteria for picking a country- I wanted a big city, it needed to be close to a body of water, and it had to be somewhere “unusual”. Somehow, I came across Lima and it met all three of my measures. I brought a plane ticket and off I went. Even though I was in Lima to study, I also got opportunities to travel and see all different parts of Peru for 7 months. Once my seven months were up, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I returned to Peru, its culture and life style was one I fell in love with. As soon as I had the chance I was back again to visit friends in December 2013. It was then that I began the search for a way of securing a more long term stay here, and a way of giving something back to the country that I felt was giving me such great experiences.

People continuously ask me, “What is so great about Peru? Why do you always go back?” The answer is simple: the lifestyle. The way people live here cannot easily be put into words. One may say that it is very relaxed, while another may say it is chaotic. From relaxed to chaotic and everything in between, that is Lima. I love the countless numbers of taxis, the streets that never sleep, and the nonexistent traffic laws. I enjoy their concept of time and how conversations are more important than a list of things to do. The Peruvian gastronomy is something that I particularly enjoy! Peruvians are the most warming, caring, and welcoming people I have ever met.

MEDLIFE’s, mission statement- “to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives”, really struck a chord with me. After contacting MEDLIFE, I was very happy that Tim, the Director of Student Affairs and Communications, offered me an interview.

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During the interview Tim and I conversed more about MEDLIFE, its values, and future goals. I like how MEDLIFE takes a comprehensive approach through three main components- medicine, education, and development. I believe this forms a core foundation for someone to live a successful lifestyle. I was so happy to later find out I got the job and was soon going to be a part of this wonderful organization.

I cannot wait to see what is in store for me during my time here at MEDLIFE.  From the office to the field, there are always ways to improve a situation, from something as simple as smiling and having a positive attitude to a situation, to thinking of new innovative ways for development. My overall goal for this internship is to make a positive change and impression within MEDLIFE

June 26, 2014 10:46 AM

Meet The Patient: Gerardina Vilchez

Written by Suzanna Kane

gerardina1Geradina lives in a small rented room, with just enough space for a bed, 2 hobs and a TV. There’s no windows and so despite it being mid day, we sit in dim lighting. Geradina hasn’t always lived in Lima, the illness brought her here, as it is where she can get the best treatment and seek support from MEDLIFE. It isn’t her home, and she actually speaks little of the Spanish that is spoken in Lima. She is in fact from Ocobamba, one of the eight districts of the province Chincheros in Peru. There, they speak Quechua, a language spoken primarily in the Andes, it is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Recognising the need to seek medical help for a growth in her neck, she made the journey to Lima, where her sister lives. Doing this meant she was leaving behind her husband and 6 children, a decision that doesn’t come easily to any wife or mother. However, with increasing pain and discomfort she knew it was her only option.

The disease she has is called Goiter, an abnormal enlargement of a thyroid gland. A large goiter causes a cough and makes it difficult to swallow or breathe. When Geradina talks it causes a lot of water to form in her throat and the gland to inflate. Geradina’s sister introduced her to MEDLIFE in 2013, and since then MEDLIFE have supported Geradina in finding the necessary medical attention.

Geradina had to have an operation on her neck to remove the thyroid tissue. Though the operation went well its left Geradina with a scar that she’s so ashamed and conscious of, one that she always tries to hide from view. Though her condition is improving she continues to be in discomfort with other conditions that have been linked to Goiter. So for now, MEDLIFE will remain in regular contact with her, following up with the progress of her recovery. 

Living in Lima, away from her family means Geradina isn’t able to communicate with her ​​husband, relaying this brings her to tears during our conversation. She tries to stay positive and says that she is happy that he is there to be with their children. It’s been extremely difficult for Geradina being really far away from her family and not being able to communicate with them, particularly with the worries her illness brings. However, our conversation ends on a high, she tells us she feels so grateful for MEDLIFE as they have helped her a lot and have been a great support through her recovery, which is so great to hear.  We truly hope that soon Geradina will be able to get well enough to make the journey back to her home and her family, and until then, MEDLIFE will continue to stand by her side. 

June 19, 2014 3:27 PM

Hima Patel's Intern Journal

Written by Hima Patel

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Notorious for their cramped, sardines-in-a-can feel, airplanes are not my favorite means of transport. I let out a sigh of relief when I felt the hard bump of the plane’s tires making contact with the smooth, even runway. I have landed, safe and sound. And this time around, I knew that the landing brought me one step closer to an internship of a lifetime. After I collected my baggage-probably more clothes than I need, but hey, I’m an over packer- I found Tim, the Director of Student Affairs and Communications, waiting for me with a warm hug and weary smile. We took the scenic route back to the apartments, the silence of the night only amplifying the sounds of the South Pacific waves crashing on the Peruvian shore. I knew that that moment of serenity would be a constant during this internship from my previous experience with a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to Lima. MEDLIFE’s cause- providing medical assistance, improving education and implementing development projects for impoverished families around the world- is near and dear to my heart. It brings me closer, in a sense, to myself, keeping that overwhelming serenity ever present in every action I take.

Over the first few days, I got settled in and began to get a feel for the surrounding area. I found fresh fruits and vegetables sold right around the corner and quaint restaurants offering all types of cuisines every few steps. The first few steps around the city were daunting: rapid-fire Spanish came out of every mouth, and my ears, unaccustomed to so much of the language, struggled to keep up and make sense of every word. As the days go by, I pick up more Spanish, and even converse back in broken Spanish, pulling out the vestiges of the vibrant language from the back corners of my mind.

hima2My first week in, I got the chance to follow Ruth, one of MEDLIFE’s nurses, as she checked in on a few of our long term patients. We first met a middle aged man suffering from cancer in his leg, surrounded by his wife, two young children and his parents. They all hovered around, giving us Inca Cola (a local favorite soda that tastes a bit like bubblegum to me), listening to our questions and offering answers. MEDLIFE helps him pay for treatment and medications, and continue to follow up with his care.

We then visited a woman on the other side of the city, traveling in packed buses and walking through dusty roads to her home. After she unbarred the door to her small one room home, we spoke to her about her recent throat surgery. We laughed as we all tried to communicate- she spoke Quechua, Ruth spoke only Spanish, and the other interns and I spoke English with only a preliminary understanding of Spanish. She looked as if she was recovering well from the surgery, and explained that some other pains in her body had lessened since she had been receiving care from MEDLIFE.

The last patient we met with was an elderly women, cared for by her daughter, living only a street or two away from the previous patient. She suffered from uterine cancer and spoke with Ruth about continuing her treatment, with Ruth making necessary adjustments in her health plan. The tears of gratitude each patient shed spoke volumes; they were genuinely thankful for the care they received from MEDLIFE, care they would not have otherwise received.  They all spoke about the pain and suffering they endured on a day to day basis, and how, with treatment, they were able to come closer to leading more normal lives.

That one trip into the field reaffirmed why I am here. I hope to make a significant difference in the lives around me. Knowing that the work I do both in the office and outside the office makes an impact on the lives of patients and volunteers alike makes every effort all the more important. Over the summer, I hope to be able to converse in Spanish, see more of Peru (Machu Picchu!), and indulge in some delicious (vegetarian) cuisine!

June 19, 2014 1:55 PM

Meet The Patient: Jose Ochoa

Written by Suzanna Kane

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From the moment we stepped into Jose´s home we were made to feel incredibly welcomed. He was the first MEDLIFE patient I met and that hour we spent in his home is one I won’t soon forget. We met José’s wife, father and 6-month-old son who played happily in his small crib. Then just before starting the interview his older son came bursting through the door offering hugs to all of us there from MEDLIFE. Before even starting the interview, it was clear that the help MEDLIFE had provided to this family had meant a lot to them- the son was young but through his loving hugs seemed so grateful for, and appreciative of, MEDLIFE´s presence.

ochoa2His wife sat away, holding and playing with the baby, listening but staying silent, you could see sadness in her eyes as Jose relayed his story. As we asked Jose our questions on his story with MEDLIFE he gave us in-depth answers and finished each one with just how thankful he was for MEDLIFE´s support.

Having always lived in the hills, where the shanty towns are built as far as the eye can see, Jose has been trying to build a life for his family and earn an income as a taxi driver. His family were depending on his income, which is why the news that he was suffering from cancer was particularly devastating and concerning for them.

After experiencing increasing pain in his hip for 6 months, Jose decided he had to get it checked out at the hospital. It was then, in May 2013, that he found out he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma disease. As Jose´s wife had previously been a patient at MEDLIFE they hoped they would once again be able to seek help, otherwise unsure of how they would be able to cope financially.

After hearing Jose´s situation, MEDLIFE recognised the impossible situation Jose and his family were now in, they then took the steps to support Jose as much as possible. The first way in which MEDLIFE could help was to contribute funds for the oncology injection for chemotherapy. The injections were a crucial part to Jose´s recovery, which he otherwise would simply not have had the money for, particularly now as the disease meant he was unable to continue his work as a taxi driver. He told us “In the most difficult moment of my life MEDLIFE came to support me, and they really helped me through my recovery. “

The increasing pain meant that soon, Jose was unable to walk. One month after diagnosis, he was in desperate need of a wheelchair. Jose explained how he was so pleasantly surprised when team MEDLIFE turned up at his house in June, with all his treatments and a wheelchair.

Gradually, with treatment, Jose´s condition began to improve. Now he is able to move with crutches and no longer needs the wheelchair. He had been so worried that being confined to a wheelchair would prevent him from being independent again, so being able to once again do things for him-self was something he was particularly proud of.

The room fell particularly still and silent as he took a moment to think before he explained his hopes for the future, tears rolled down his cheeks. The future seemed to be something he hadn’t perhaps planned for in his darkest days of illness, but was now again able to envision. Currently he is continuing with his treatment. He explained to us that his future hopes were: “to be able to finish constructing my house that we are building on a piece of land. This land has been abandoned since 2012, and while I have been recovering from my disease I have been living in my parents home. I wanted to finish building it at least with plywood; otherwise we will lose the land.”

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Jose´s advice for others in the same situation was simple and exemplified the positivity and determination he has demonstrated throughout his treatment. He said “If you want to get somewhere, just go for it, and if you fall, don’t give up on your desire to live, and your faith.”

He explained how now people are often so surprised to see his progress and recovery because they previously saw him in so much pain, which he described as ‘horrible’.

After some time receiving his medication, concern was again raised when Jose was told he needed to go to physiotherapy rehab. The doctors thought there was another problem causing the bones of his hip to hurt. However, once beginning rehab, the situation quickly improved and soon Jose realised the pain that he had been experiencing had gone, he explained with a smile spreading across his face, beaming with relief, he was finally getting better. It had been an awful 6 months for the family, during which at times they had nothing to eat and relied on donations of friends and even the doctor for, in order to survive.  When reflecting on that time Jose seemed so sincerely full of gratitude when stating “I will never forget their faces, I think with a lot of faith and desire anything is possible, treatment was causing me to get the chills but with the support of everyone I was able to carry on and get through it.”

Though Jose’s condition is improving, MEDLIFE continues to follow up with him, ensuring his recovery stays on track. The following final comment from Jose made me extremely proud to be a new member of the MEDLIFE team; the importance of their work was so vital to Jose’s journey to recovery.

“I am now walking slowly and by myself, and this is all thanks to all the people and to you, MEDLIFE for the wheelchair. Today I continue to have examinations and new treatment. I thank Ruth (MEDLIFE follow- up coordinator and field nurse) for all her continuous help and support.”

June 18, 2014 2:25 PM

Suzanna Kane's Intern Journal

Written by Suzzana Kane

susie1

Having spent two years living and teaching in Hong Kong, I was itching for a change of scenery. So after doing some research, I realised I would like to try my hand at a communications job. After spending hours looking on the Internet, I came across MEDLIFE. Not only did it look like a great job opportunity, it would also mean I would be moving to Peru for the summer, perfect! After getting through the application process I was over the moon to hear I got the job. Hong Kong had been the most incredible experience; it is a place with so much to offer. However, the crowds and pollution had taken their toll and I was ready for the next adventure. As Peru couldn’t be much further from Hong Kong distance wise, I decided to break up my journey by spending the weekend in New York.

Going from an Asian culture to downtown Brooklyn, New York, was something! The sun was shining for the weekend; it created the most lovely atmosphere. Walking around the area people were out on their front steps with families and friends, chatting and laughing… as everyone lives in towering apartment blocks this wasn’t a common scene in Hong Kong. That was another thing, I felt like the skies were empty, the buildings just so low. This contributed to it having a much stronger community feel, which was very welcoming. I was thoroughly enjoying my time until it came to getting the subway. Hong Kong is infamous for its metro system, the cleanliness and its efficiency is top. New York is infamous for theirs being the opposite‐irregular, dirty and slow.

The weekend flew, and it was time to leave NYC behind and head for the hills of Lima.  Transport also quickly grabbed my attention upon arrival here. Having the bus system explained to me made it seem highly complicated, the main thing was to notice all the different shapes and sizes they came in.

I came with little expectations of Peru as after living in the metropolis surroundings of Hong Kong I found it hard to even imagine what my life here would be like, I just knew there would be a stark contrast going from one to the other. Where our apartment is, is more built up than I had expected. The air certainly feels fresher, cleaner. Going from a big office on the 13th floor of a building, encompassed by hundreds of other taller office blocks, to working in an office with 3 others in a small building is refreshing. When lunchtime came and we went as a group to a local restaurant it was a sheer delight to see that instead of yellow, boiled chicken hanging in the window (a common sight in Hong Kong as Hainan chicken was a popular local dish), there were chickens roasting ready to be eaten. A very delicious first meal! Its funny how used to a foreign culture you become when you let yourself be immersed in it. I only realise in retrospect how many things had become so normal to me after two years living in an Asian culture. It feels so odd to be walking around streets where it is only I and perhaps one or two others around, this was a rarity living in the most densely populated area of the world.

susie2After a couple of days in the office it was time for my first adventure into the hills. Time to take a bus! Thankfully we had one of the doctors with us to show us how to navigate our way otherwise it would most definitely have been a disaster. A slightly squished ride but we got to our destination safely! We were there to talk with a young girl and her sister who we are hoping to work with to create a new video for the MEDLIFE blog. Though being nervous that my Spanish isn’t quite as good as I would like, I quickly realised now was not the time to be shy. It was an absolute blast hanging out with the 2 little girls and their younger cousin. The language barrier didn’t stop us from having a giggle and playing together for the afternoon. They were particularly fond of taking selfie’s with my camera, much like everyone else in the world seems to be at the moment! We got the photos and information we needed and before long it was time to hop back on the bus, I was sad to say goodbye but felt very lucky to of met them- despite having very little they made do with what they had and were such positive and happy characters. I’m very excited that I will get to continue to work with them for the video project.

I look forward to getting adjusted to the pace of life in this completely new place, and discovering how the Peruvian culture works. I think I can already safely say I think I’m going to like my new home. 

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