Two doctors perform surgery during a surgical medical mission trip.

Chief medical officer’s annual surgical medical mission

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As the Chief Medical Officer for Methodist Health System, Martin Koonsman, MD, FACS, is a busy man. Still, he finds time every year to bring his medical talents to the people of Guatemala.

In that Central American country, 40% of the population lives in poverty, making less than $2 a day. Even basic medical care is often inaccessible. Medical mission teams help close that gap, bringing necessary healthcare and procedures to families who otherwise would not have access.

In 2007, Dr. Koonsman set off on his first mission trip. Encouraged by a fellow physician, a Peruvian who was leading a trip to his native country, Dr. Koonsman packed his bag, joined his colleague and discovered a purpose beyond borders. Dr. Koonsman’s first surgical mission left an impression, and now overseas medical missions are an annual event for him.

“These trips are an amazing experience,” he said. “If you have a desire to provide healthcare to those who have little to no access, this is what you do.”

 

Woman cuddles a small boy in a hospital room during a Methodist surgical medical mission trip.A mother holds her child as he is examined by medical staff.

Organizing a Mission Trip

Surgery in a foreign country is a challenge, to say the least. The traveling surgical team needs access to supplies and a reliable “on-ground” team that has the structure in place to screen and care for patients before and after surgery. Having those elements is place is one of the reasons Dr. Koonsman enjoys working with an organization like Faith in Practice, which has had a presence in Guatemala for more than two decades.

Organizing medical missions, and in this case a surgical mission, takes knowledge, experience, coordination, and patience. Before Dr. Koonsman and the team arrive in Antigua each year, onsite physicians with Faith in Practice work within the villages, managing chronic issues and screening patients. Those identified as needing surgery are then sent to Antigua to Casa de Fey, a medical halfway house where they stay before and after surgery. The surgical rooms may not be as technologically advanced, but Faith in Practice makes sure that the quality in care and safety practices meet the same safety standards as in the United States.

Dr. Koonsman and a team of fellow surgeons, pharmacists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and medical technicians can see up to 100 cases within a week. The surgical teams are set to operate from Monday to Thursday, seeing up to six cases a day, including tonsillectomies, cleft palate repairs, laparoscopic procedures, and more.

“We do more operations during mission trips than we do here typically,” Dr. Koonsman explained.

 

Two women and a young girl speak to volunteers for their health screenings during a surgical medical mission trip. Families gather to provide their health information to physicians and volunteers.

Leaving a Lasting Impact

For many patients, this is their only opportunity to get the medical care they so desperately need. And while they have nothing financially to give in return, it’s the gratitude and personal thanks that means the most and leaves a lasting impact.

“You see in the eyes of our patients, those that we help, the gratitude,” Dr. Koonsman says. “When they give you blessings, it melts your heart.

“Bigger than that, you gain an appreciation for each and every day. When you interact with these people, the gratitude they have really hits home and connects you to the reason you went into healthcare. What I receive is far greater than what I give.”

Providers at Methodist live out our mission here in North Texas as well. To help bring vital services to Methodist, visit the Methodist Health System Foundation or the Methodist Richardson Medical Center Foundation.

Methodist Health System’s mission is to improve and save lives through compassionate, quality healthcare. Our Mission to Medicine series shares the inspirational stories of clinicians extending this mission beyond hospital walls to local, national, and international communities.

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