According to the World Health Organization (WHO), access to surgical care in developing countries can prevent millions of deaths a year. The most common medical procedure are surgeries, such as hysterectomies, which are not only cost-effective health interventions but significantly impact women’s mortality rate worldwide.
Dr. Monica Avila, a gynecologic oncologist in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, recently participated in a medical mission to Retalhuleu, Guatemala, where she led the women’s care services. She performed gynecologic and oncologic procedures that positively impacted women in nearby counties. This endeavor was done in collaboration with the organization Faith in Practice in which medical professionals volunteer their time to provide healthcare through an integrated and coordinated network of technical resources to achieve surgical procedures for the poor in the rural lowlands of Guatemala.
The mission is a big undertaking. It requires a comprehensive surgical team including preoperative, operative and postoperative personnel. This includes a varied group of CRNAs, nurses, translators, scrub techs and ancillary staff that create a makeshift operating room in the humblest of conditions.
The trip begins with a large triage clinic guiding prospective patients to specific providers and deciding which surgical procedure is appropriate if any. The remaining days are spent in several bustling operating rooms running long hours. A group of strangers transforms into an inspirational and effective team of providers. This happens as they begin to share their time traveling to and from the hospital, enjoying meals together and optimizing patient care strategies. Then with each passing day, the sea of grateful faces grows in the old wards.
"This experience creates meaningful access to care and transforms the lives of patients and providers alike."- Dr. Monica Avila, gynecologic oncologist
During her time there, Dr. Avila was able to lay the groundwork to continue improving the surgical techniques in the area. She performed the first minimally invasive hysterectomy ever done at Hilario Galindo Hospital and the western half of Guatemala. To many there, surgery alone is a luxury with many patients waiting months to years to receive medical treatment. After each mission trip, the team leaves behind the necessary tools and resources for the local healthcare providers to use to continue to improve the lives of their patients.
"This experience creates meaningful access to care and transforms the lives of patients and providers alike," said Dr. Avila.
For more information on the medical mission in Guatemala, please connect with Dr. Avila directly at Monica.Avila@Moffitt.org.
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