Sarai, a rising senior from De Toledo High School in Southern California, recently traveled with us on a mission to mend hearts in Managua, Nicaragua. She stepped out of her comfort zone and ventured into uncharted territories, discovering a world beyond the confines of textbooks and classrooms. As a non-medical volunteer, Sarai shadowed the interventional cardiology team, led by Dr. Michael Womack from St. Luke's Children's Hospital, as they provided lifesaving procedures to 12 kids. Sarai shares her experience, in her own words:
"Because I had sort of stumbled into this mission through school, I was not sure what to expect going in. I knew that, in the past, missions had been fascinating and beneficial to other students interested in medicine at my school. Because of this, I was excited to have the opportunity to explore medicine in action.
I never would have imagined the variety of jobs a doctor has, especially when working on a volunteer mission. I was surprised by the ethical challenges that doctors face and the humanity that is just as integral as the procedure itself.
As I think back on my experience now that I am home, I realize the equal importance of the procedures and emotional support for the families. Walking into the hospital to pass out coloring books and crayons on the first day, I was overwhelmed and intimidated. I thought that, since I don't speak spanish, hanging out with the kids must not be the best way to help. I shied away from playing with the kids on my own, which I realize now was selfish. I could still smile and color with the kids so they feel seen and supported. As the parents and kids got to know me they would smile and say hi when I walked by. I noticed that I was, in fact, making connections through these awkward smiles, a thumbs up, and bringing them blankets and stuffed bears. In hindsight, if I were to do another mission, I would spend more time exploring this nonverbal communication, which, for most of the trip, I was afraid of.
At first, these procedures were completely foreign to me. Luckily, the other volunteers and doctors kindly translated and explained the steps, challenges, and outcome of each procedure. I realized quickly that the doctors were more than happy to answer any questions I had, I just had to ask. By the end, I knew which aspects of the procedure were difficult and would nervously hold my breath until the doctors finished those parts. I also knew the patients by name and was rooting for each one.
In the future, if I were to come on another mission, I would love to incorporate this new knowledge. I would not let my fear of awkward situations hinder me from supporting the families and making connections with them. Also, I would make sure to ask even more questions. As I write this, I continuously think of information that I wish I had asked about while I was on this mission.”
Sarai reminds us of all of the power we possess to bring smiles, make connections and positively impact the lives of others.
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