Students provide medical services in Mexico

By Yolanda Martinez


Nearly a dozen University of the Incarnate Word students, accompanied by some administrators and faculty members, participated in a Sept. 7-11 health mission to Oaxaca, Mexico.

The UIW missionaries were part of a larger Los Quijotes contingent making its 18th annual mission to Oaxaca under the direction of Dr. Hugo Castaneda and a volunteer team of health care providers including physicians, nurses, dentists, lab technicians, pharmacists and optometrists.

Casteneda’s team began providing health care in Mexico City, then Oaxaca at the request of the Incarnate Word Sisters serving at Santa Rosa Hospital in 1987.

The Quijotes team joins the government of Oaxaca every year to help provide medical services to people with limited resources in Oaxaca and the surrounding region. On this trip, an estimated $300,000 was dispensed to the population of Oaxaca in medical, dental, surgical and ophthalmologic care. Medications and equipment used in this trip were donated and collected all year.

Services provided included medical and dental consultations, corrective eye lenses, cataract surgeries, and some elective surgical procedures. Along with Los Quijotes volunteers, Oaxacan (DIF), local physicians and health career students provided care to the patients mostly in Oaxaca City, with one day devoted to nearby Mitla. An estimated 2,800 patients were served and more than 6,000 medical procedures conducted.

The UIW team included pre-pharmacy undergraduate Yolanda Martinez; nurse practitioner student Litzie Ramos; pharmacy students Tiffany Alex, Jenny Galindo, Jezzen Morin, Larissa Poorman and Lilian Toves; optometry students Amanda Achilles, Samantha Bohl, Desirae Brinkley, Denise Lopez De Chacon and Ashley Pylant; faculty Dr. Amalia Mondriguez, who teaches Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, and Dr. Kevin LaFrance, professor of health administration in the HEB School of Business and Administration); Dr. Barbara Aranda-Naranjo, associate provost for civic engagement with the Ettling Center for Civic Engagement; and Sister Maria Luisa Velez, who was part of the first mission trip made by Los Quijotes.

Aranda-Naranjo and Mondriguez provided health promotion and prevention classes. La France developed the Excel spreadsheet and entered data to record all visits. Luisa provided spiritual counseling and lectured on spirituality and health to Oaxacan nursing students.

Pharmacy students were in charge of preparing medication for the patients prescribed by doctors at the clinic. They also counseled patients and made sure they understood how and when to take their medications. Optometry students were involved in helping assist the patients in checking their eyes for any signs of cataracts or eye issues. They would then send them to the ophthalmology section if they needed to provide reading glasses, prescription glasses, or sunglasses. Oaxacan nursing students helped doctors at the clinic by doing the initial screening to include vital signs and blood sugar testing. Ramos saw patients under the direction of Los Quijotes volunteer doctors.

Overall, this experience helped UIW students connect local medicine to global needs, while living out the core values of the mission of UIW: education, truth, faith, service and innovation.

Before leaving, the team heard parting remarks from Veronica Quevedo de Villacana, wife of  Oaxaca’s mayor and honorary president of the municipal committee for the development of the family, who quoted the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta in telling the volunteers:

“If you do not live to serve, you do not deserve to live.”

Some of the UIW students shared their reflections about the mission.

“It’s very hard for me to put this amazing experience into words,” Galindo of John and Rita Feik School of Pharmacy. “Overall, it was incredible, heartwarming, and very rewarding. Most of the patients spent numerous hours waiting for the gates to open, to see a doctor, and again for their prescription. Yet not one person complained and everyone was so thankful and appreciative that we were there and to receive medication and counseling about what was prescribed. This experience was truly unforgettable.”

Fellow pharmacy student Toves said, “It was deeply motivating to see how there are many people who are willing to get out of their (comfort) zone and help others. However; in some instances helping is not only providing professional healthcare services, which are important, but also offering humanitarian assistance. Moreover, serving as a translator to people who due to their language barriers cannot get the help they need, offering advice and praying together with them is as important as a medical consultation.”

Morin, another pharmacy student, said, “Being a part of Los Quijotes 2015 was a huge honor. This trip was an amazing experience that I will cherish forever. I learned so much about the lack of access to health care in Oaxaca and about the needs of this community. The patients were extremely grateful for the help we provided and the medications we were able to supply them. Things we take for granted such as pain relievers and simple antibiotics have made a huge impact in Mexico. Having this experience as a student will definitely influence my future and I hope to one day return to Oaxaca with Los Quijotes as a pharmacist.”

Lopez, a student at Rosenberg School of Optometry, said, “The Oaxaca medical mission trip was truly a life-changing experience. I was privileged to serve in the ophthalmology department as one of the optometry students. Not only did I get to see numerous eye conditions that I thought I would only see in an ocular disease book, but it was very rewarding knowing that we had made many people’s lives a little better. I, however, received something even more valuable, a feeling of fulfillment, blessed, and the desire to continue to help others across borders. This is an experience I will never forget.”

For Ramos, who got to work on nurse practitioner skills, the Oaxaca mission trip was “an invigorating experience.”

The mission “allowed me to have contact with my inner self, and (I) rejoiced in providing care to the less-fortunate,” Ramos said. “The experience also served me to fulfill UIW’s mission, to become a global leader in health. I’m grateful to UIW and its partnership with Los Quijotes de San Antonio. God bless the mission, the group leaders, the students, and (I) hope to work with them once again in the future.”


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