August 5, 2014 8:22 AM

Meet the Staff: Luis Cartagena

Written by Diana Sotomayor

luis-cartagena-mtsHere at MEDLIFE we are proud to introduce Luis Cartagena, who has been working with MEDLIFE Ecuador for many years. Read more about Luis’ story below:

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Riobamba.  I have always lived here, I love it.

How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?

I had been working as a bus driver for many years before I found out about MEDLIFE. Then, when MEDLIFE first started working in Riobamba I began volunteering as a bus driver for the organization. I knew my way around everywhere, so I offered MEDLIFE my bus and drove the staff and the volunteers wherever they needed to go.  After 3 years MEDLIFE had grown big enough that the position ‘Project Coordinator of Riobamba’ was created to ensure continuous and efficient development of the organization. I was offered the role- as I know the poor communities around the Chimborazo Province I was the ideal candidate for the job.

What is it that you like most about working with MEDLIFE?

I love to work on the Mobile Clinics because this is when we inaugurate most of the projects.  I find it very rewarding when a community is so grateful for what we do for them.  During the Mobile Clinics I enjoy being able to work on the different stations, for example the pharmacy station. I am very versatile and try to help with everything I can.

Can you name a particular patient that has had a strong impact on you?

When we go to the Mobile Clinics we see just about everything, the old patients really impress me.  They walk long distances and work very hard on a daily basis; regardless of their health conditions they always continue smiling.  I want to be like that when I grow up!

What do you do in your free time?

I still love my bus so in my free time I take pleasure in going on trips and driving very long distances.  I like to drive up to Colombia or down to Perú for the “Romerías” –a procession in honor of the Virgin Mary. I am very fond of the religious parade and the spectacular views on the drive there.

July 25, 2014 8:56 AM

Meet the Interns Summer 2014 Part 2

Written by Rosali Vela

Meet our new MEDLIFE Summer Interns 2014 Part 2!

2014-dom-2Name: Dom Grisafe
Hometown: Fontana, California
School: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Major: Biochemistry
Why did you decide to become an intern?: One of my friends was starting a chapter at my school two years ago. He invited me to an informational meeting describing the mobile clinics in Lima, Peru, and I’ve been hooked on MEDLIFE ever since.
What was your first impression of Lima?: I was excited to be in the middle of a thriving metropolis when I came to Lima for the first time two years ago. It was more of a dream-like feeling then. My mobile clinic only lasted a week, and I was disappointed to leave so quickly after arriving. When I returned for the internship this last July, I was once again in awe of Lima, but also invigorated to finally be able to get an in-depth experience in the city.

My favorite part so far: A few days ago I visited an impoverished beachside community with Janet, one of the local nurses that works with MEDLIFE. We delivered bundles of medical test results to local community leaders that volunteered to distribute the results to each individual patient. It was incredible to see the local Peruvian people rally together to take care of their own. I realized that our organization only begins with the nurses, office staff, college students, and doctors. I discovered that MEDLIFE runs deeply through each of the people that live in the communities we serve. 

2014-diana-2Name: Diana Isabel Sotomayor
Hometown: Lajas, Puerto Rico
School: University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez
Major: Biology

How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I discovered the organization through friends that participated in Mobile Clinics.  When I read the organization’s mission, I knew this was somewhere I wanted to work in.

Why did you decide to become an intern?: I knew I wanted to contribute to MEDLIFE since I learned about the organization and how it incorporates education and development in its medical clinics.  I could relate immediately because I aspire to contribute towards the improvement of global health by addressing education and development issues (among others) at local and international levels. These three pillars are fundamental to create change in a long-term and sustainable way.  
My favorite part so far: By constantly being exposed to different settings and people with individual needs I have learned to approach issues in a more comprehensive and holistic way while understanding and respecting socio-cultural differences.  In this process I have learned more about myself: interests, weaknesses and strengths.  Also, that I have definitively reassured my professional aspirations to continue working within the public sector towards achieving a healthier society.
July 21, 2014 9:35 AM

Meet the Patient: Byron Buñay

Written by Diana Sotomayor


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!

June 16, 2014 10:07 AM

Meet the Interns Summer 2014 Part 1

Written by Rosali Vela

Meet our new MEDLIFE Summer Interns 2014!

suzyName: Suzanna Kane
Hometown: London, UK
School: Sussex University
Major: Development studies and Sociology
Why did you decide to become an intern?: Being able to combine both my passions with a job has always been a dream. Having the opportunity to do that with MEDLIFE seemed more than ideal!
What was your first impression of Lima?: Having spent 2 years living in Hong Kong I couldn't help but keep comparing it to there! It was more built up than I had expected and so much bigger than Hong Kong. 

My favorite part so far: My favourite part has been meeting my new colegues and my first trip into the hills. It was so special meeting some of the girls MEDLIFE have helped, I had so much fun hanging out with them and getting to see their lives. 

aaronName: Aaron Sanfield
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
School: University of Michigan
Major: History/Pre-health

How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I became involved with MEDLIFE after a friend from home, Melanie Askari, transferred to the University of Michigan from the University of Vermont.  MEDLIFE had a chapter at UV and she said that she wanted to start a chapter here at U of M and asked if I wanted to be a part of creating the best global health organization on campus.  She made me an offer I couldn't refuse

Why did you decide to become an intern?: When I visited Lima for the first time last spring, 10 days was just not long enough and I really enjoy living abroad so I decided the only way to experience Lima organically was to apply and work for the organization that really kick-started my love of helping those less fortunate and showing others how "caring is cool," a quote I learned from the MEDLIFE Tanzania director, Terry Mulligan.

tomName: Tom Stephens
Hometown: Hertford, UK
School: Leeds College of Art
Major: Digital Film, Games & Animation
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: My house mate from Leeds introduced me to the charity, we saw MEDLIFE as an opportunity to travel the world while helping the poorest communities in South America. We both applied for the media internship hoping to travel together. We were delighted when we both received an invitation to work for the charity.

Tell us a little about yourself: I would consider myself an opportunist with a passion for adventure and exploration. Kind hearted, openminded and spontaneous I am always seeking new experiences and memories to tell my grandchildren. I am a budding documentary filmmaker with a devotion to representative film. In my free time I feel most comfortable gliding through the air, whether that be on a skateboard, or a bicycle. I hope to leave a mark on the world, in changing the shift of inequality that is embedded in our planet.

Name: Hima Patel
Hometown: Germantown, Maryland, USA
School: University of Maryland
Major: Behavioral and Community Health
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I volunteered in a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to Lima, Peru in 2012 when a few friends of mine asked me to come with them over the summer. After the fantastic experience, I got involved with the MEDLIFE chapter on the UMD campus so that I could continue helping this wonderful cause.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: At my first volunteer trip, I realized the importance of public health work to an entire community, and as a Public Health major, I wanted to continue gaining experience working with communities to enact a positive health change. I also wanted to further my involvement with MEDLIFE while gaining insight on how such an organization runs.

dileepName: Dileep Mandali
Hometown: Naperville, IL
School: The Ohio State University
Major: Biochemistry and Biology

How I got involved with MEDLIFE: I became involved with MEDLIFE my sophomore year of college back in 2011, when my ‘Big’ in my medical fraternity persuaded me along with few other members to travel with an OSU group to Riobamba, Ecuador; I stuck with this chapter ever since then as an active member, as the Membership Director, and as the President this past year.
Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in India for nearly half of my life and moved to US at a time when I barely spoke English. Through some ups and downs, I eventually became a US citizen, now aspiring to become a physician. While the life of a double-major does keep me busy, you can frequently find me speed-walking from a meeting to another meeting as a (primary) leader for more than one student organization on campus.

Name: Alex Troyer
Hometown: Sammamish, Washington
School: Eastern Washington University
Major: Therapeutic Recreation with an Emphasis in Leadership
How I got involved with MEDLIFE: At my university we don’t have a chapter, so this is the first time I have ever been involved with MEDLIFE. I learned about the organization when I was reading a local Peruvian blog and was hooked from reading just one article. And now I am an Intern!
Tell us a little about yourself: I consider myself to be an open minded and adventurous individual. I love trying new things- food, activities, places or whatever. I look for potential positive change in any given situation and try to encourage people to think critically.
Why did you decide to become an intern?: One of my values in life is to volunteer whenever possible. I did not have any summer plans, so what could possibly be better than volunteering in a country I love, with an amazing organization, for people in need. 

janet1Here at MEDLIFE we are proud to introduce Janet Ludeña, who has recently joined our staff as a full-time field nurse after volunteering with us for a year! Read more about Janet’s story below:

Where are you from?

I was born in Ayacucho, in the Andes of Peru, but a few days after my birth my family moved to Lima. Since then, I’ve grown up in the capital.

How did you get involved with MEDLIFE?

I saw a group of foreign students doing a tour in La Rinconada, Pamplona, where I live. There, I met Carlos Benavides, and he told me about MEDLIFE and the work that they do. After I told him that I am a nurse, he asked me to send him my resume. A few days later, I came on board as a nurse during some Mobile Clinics in Villa el Salvador. I continued to work with MEDLIFE on various projects and was also the support for a focus group that was put on by a foreign medical student. It was very interesting for me, as the project covered the preventative benefits of getting an annual Pap test.

A few months later, MEDLIFE promoted me to Community Coordinator, in which I, along with six other people, work to find new communities for Mobile Clinic, and as of last week, I am now one of the full-time field nurses on MEDLIFE’s staff.

What is it that you like most about working with MEDLIFE?

From the beginning I have always liked the educational workshops that MEDLIFE hosts in the different communities around Lima. I can see at those workshops that community members are genuinely intrigued on ways to improve their health by preventative measures.

Can you name a particular patient that has had a strong impact on you?

I don’t have any patients of my own yet because I just began this position a week ago, but with Ruth I met the young Jose Luis Solizor. He’s impacted me because he is someone who has always had his family’s best interest in mind and because of that, he is a very hard worker. Unfortunately, he suffered a harsh accident and since then is unable to walk. Despite is condition, he is very passionate about moving forward and improving his health, and now he is working with MEDLIFE so that he can receive the proper treatment for the road to recovery.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to watch TV and read. I don’t have a particular show or book, but I love all adventure stories and self-help reads. 

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