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A Special Visit to Guatemala

Dr. Allan Rees and I were invited to accompany a group of  local doctors and nurses on one of their regular medical missions to Guatemala where they went to help indigent children. Though I had never had traveled to Guatemala, in the past I had the opportunity to care for Guatemalan children who were brought to Louisville by an organization based in Bowling Green Kentucky, Children of the Americas (COTA). On that occasion I got my first close look at all that could be done for otherwise hopeless children by volunteers with limited resources but a lot of good will.

On this trip in which I took part the first thing that impressed me was like before the generosity of the doctors and nurses who at their own expense took their vacation time to travel to Guatemala to work under these very poor conditions, conditions only known by those who have worked before in developing countries. I was also impressed by the warm welcome and gratitude we received from all the families of the children we went to care for as well as the Guatemalan volunteers.

The objective of Dr. Rees and my visit to Guatemala was to lay the ground work for establishing an exchange program between our Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville and a similar entity at a University Medical School in Guatemala. In addition to this I and Dr. Rees shared our own personal goal in making this trip, we wanted to visit Jorge Luis Bollat and his family.

We had met Jorge Luis in 1990 in Louisville when at the age of 13 months he was brought to the children’s hospital for surgery to correct a major heart malformation. He was born as a four pound premature child with multiple congenital deformities including a cyanotic heart malformation. Without the surgery to correct his heart defect he would not have lived longer than a few years. After his first Surgery Jorge Luis remained at Kosair Children’s Hospital for several months with complications, associated with other malformations he was born with and which also required surgical intervention. When he finally recovered he went home to Guatemala only to return to Louisville in 1991 to undergo further surgery, this time to replace a valve in his heart.

When Jorge Luis finally returned home for good he was a different child, he could now grow up like a normal healthy child. At that time I told his parents that maybe someday I would visit them in Guatemala to see how Jorge Luis was doing. I think this was a hopeful wish and that in reality it probably would never happen.

Being a physician treating children with heart problems, I have had my share of human experiences but this one was different. Jorge Luis, now a good looking six-year old child, for the first time met some of  the doctors who helped him get better. Doctors who before, he only knew from pictures and stories told by his parents. One day, while visiting Jorge Luis on this trip, he came to me and with a big smile handed me a lollipop and asked me if  I would stay and live with him at his house. For that one instant it suddenly occurred to me, what a great profession I work in, it was this profession which made it possible for this little fellow to be here today and in such a trusting and childlike way reach out to pay me the highest reward I could ever ask for.

The beautiful volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan and the majestic Mayan ruins we visited at Tikal only added earth and historic human perspective to an unforgettable visit to Guatemala.


                                                                                Francisco Elbl, M.D.

                                                                                Univ. of Louisville, Pediatric Cardiologist, Volunteer

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Last Updated: February 06, 2008