LAYTON — A group of doctors, nurses, medical students, dentists, dieticians and even a schoolteacher are headed to Guatemala this weekend to provide much-needed medical services to people there.
Dr. Robert L. Mellor, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Tanner Memorial Clinic and president of Utah Medical Outreach, has been traveling to the underserved country for the past 22 years.
This year, he and his group will travel about 10 hours by bus to a small clinic in a mountainous area northeast of Guatemala City.
“They have built a small clinic that we will turn into a mini surgical hospital for a week,” he said. “There are 13 small communities in this area that have never seen a specialist for surgery.”
Over the years, Mellor said, the group has accumulated enough equipment that it is able to set up a mobile surgical hospital just about anywhere.
“This trip will be the most remote and underserved area we have ever been to,” he said.
“These people don’t even speak Spanish, but a local dialect called Kekchi. It is all possible thanks to a local Guatemalan company that built a little clinic up in the mountains to help the poor.”
Mellor said several people in the group of 21 have served missions to Latin countries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We fell in love with the people and the culture,” he said. “After we received our medical training, we found a niche that is extremely rewarding.”
The hydroelectric company that built the clinic invited the group to come to the country this year. It has hired a full-time Honduran physician and two Guatemalan nurses to screen and care for patients when Mellor’s group returns home.
“So far, they have 244 patients lined up for surgery which we will have to screen,” Mellor said. “In each trip, we generally see about 500 to 600 people in a week.”
Utah Medical Outreach is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing medical services to underserved people.
Mellor said some of the patients he has treated include a young girl who was close to losing her leg from a large, infected snake-bite wound.
“We cleaned up the wound under anesthesia and gave them a lot of IV antibiotics for her. After several weeks of treatment, she was able to walk out of the hospital,” he said.
Another incident involved a young girl who had been nearly deaf all of her life. She could hear only very loud, blast-type sounds.
“We put special hearing aids on her, and she heard normal voices for the first time,” Mellor said.
Dr. Nathan Forbush, a pediatrician at Tanner Memorial Clinic, is going on the humanitarian trip for the first time.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved in serving the underserved areas of the world,” he said. “This is a place I really wanted to go and help because, from a medical standpoint, they really struggle tremendously to have their needs met.”
Forbush said he expects to see a lot of gastrointestinal illnesses, malnutrition issues and parasite problems while he’s there.
“I’m bringing a lot of material and medication with me,” he said. “If I don’t use it all, I’ll leave it there for other medical people to have as they travel through that area.”
Others involved in the trip include Dr. Steven Meeks, an OB/GYN; medical assistant Leesa Washburn; Dr. Glen McMillan; dentist Brian Hales; an anesthesiologist; and registered nurses Jolene Lloyd and Cynthia Spackman.
“Utah is an amazing place to live and work in health care. We receive so much generous support for our trips from local organizations … the people that go willingly pay their own way and take time away from their jobs and families,” Mellor said.
“It is very hard work in difficult situations, and no one complains. I think it gets to the heart of what really makes people happy, and that is doing things for others.”