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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Day 1 In Country: Arriving in Tegucigalpa & Meeting Some of the Team

(Becky: Connie's first blog entry came in with the note: Pooped. Headed to Bed. But it's going to be amazing!)

I was up at 3, dropped off at Will Rogers International at 4, and sitting on the tarmac having the plane de-iced at 6! (In Oklahoma in October.) That was a crazy start to an amazing day. The next amazing thing was realizing that almost the entire, booked flight from Atlanta to Tegucigalpa was filled with missionaries from North America. There were multiple groups from all over the US flying in to perform all nature of humanitarian works. And they were a joyful lot. I don’t know if I’ve ever been on such a noisy flight.

Honduras is simply beautiful! Approaching from the air we could see the terrain; not mountainous like the Rockies, but ragged hills covered in green with clusters of civilization hanging off of the sides of the bluffs. The flight’s grand finale came when all passengers braced themselves as the airplane shuddered to an abrupt halt on the abbreviated runway and then burst into spontaneous cheers and applause.

Immigration and customs in Honduras was uncomplicated. Once through, I began to meet other members of the team. Those assembled visited in a little airport cafe and got to know each other a bit as others arrived from all over (Vancouver, Toronto, Lexington, Memphis, Boston, Chicago, far.) I am the only non-medical personnel, alongside of these amazing specialists. Meeting them outside of their professional settings was a delight. Mostly, I was a silent observer, trying to learn all I could. But when my curiosity got the best of me, and I asked a question, they were so helpful and patient giving me in-depth answers.

I learned that David is the BioMedical member of the team. And what does a BioMedical Technician do? He is responsible for the maintenance and calibration of all of the high tech (or not quite so, in the case of developing countries) medical equipment that the surgeons, perfusionist, anesthesiologists, nurses and pediatricians will use in their work. Without his expertise, no one else could work their magic. And what is a perfusionist, I asked? A perfusionist manages the oxygen and blood flow, and pressure, and body temperature (and many other important things) of the heart surgery patient, while the pediatric cardiac surgeon repairs the baby’s heart. And what is an Intensivist? An intensivist is the doctor responsible for all of the patients in the Intensive Care Unit...round the clock, when the procedures are over and the others go back to the hotel to sleep.

Tomorrow morning we go to the hospital and the ICHF surgeons will consult with the local pediatric cardiac team to begin to determine which children to treat during the next few weeks. Andrea is our organizer and front team. She arrived early to make sure that everything was prepared to maximize the productivity of the mission. She explained that the first two days may include a few less complicated surgeries so that the two teams can become familiar with working together. During the following few days, the more complicated surgeries will occur, giving those patients the longest recovery time possible, before the ICHF mission is over. I had never thought about the amount of preparation and strategizing that would be required to pull off this mission.

I kept the camera stuffed in my day pack, so I could ease into the transition and just hang out with the team. Tomorrow the camera comes with me and I’ll begin to document the goings-on at the hospital. We will be organizing supplies and setting up the OR. I got to meet Shaun, a staffer from ICHF, whose mission will be taking videos of many of the same things I’ll be taking photos of. While the medical team is focused on healing babies hearts, we’ll be collaborating to bring you some of the touching stories involving the families who are hoping against hope that their little ones will receive one of these life-saving surgeries, and have a chance to have a normal, healthy childhood.

All through the day, the others asked me, “So what is your role on the mission, Connie?” Pointing to the MOHF logo on my tee shirt, I briefly shared the story of Oakes, and the amazing foundation that we are all helping to create and perpetuate. I could see the look of genuine awe in their faces. These are wonderful, skillful, talented professionals. They are devoting their careers to healing, and donating their vacations and free time to volunteering because they want to share their expertise with children who would not have a shot at life otherwise. And yet, in each of their reactions, I could see that they really got it...the understanding, on some level, of what these frightened, exhausted  families go through as they cling to the hope of a miracle. And how the families need some healing of their own. ICHF is doing tremendous work. There will be 45 international medical missions this year to underdeveloped countries...three of them beginning this week. They are a wonderful partner for MOHF, raising the money to send these teams around the world, and working out all of the in-country logistics. I am honored to be here, and ready to help in every way I can.

The surgeries won’t begin until Monday morning, but tomorrow I hope to bring you so photos and introduce you to some of the wonderful men and women who are assembling in Tegucigalpa to begin the work of healing hearts.

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