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University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center clinical staff distributes medical care and supplies to Guatemalans in need

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Joined five-day August “medical brigade” by MedWish International, founded by UH urologist

GEAUGA COUNTY – In August, five members of University Hospitals (UH) Geauga Medical Center’s clinical staff volunteered to fly to Guatemala to offer basic medical care and supplies to thousands of people who live without them on a daily basis. Emergency physician Robert Zimmerman, MD; pediatrician Ann Failinger, MSW, MD; gynecologist Margie Wenz, MD; emergency physician assistant Zac DePriest, PA-C; and emergency nurse Chris Zalba, RN traveled with a contingent of approximately 40 people on behalf of MedWish International.

The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1993 by Lee Ponsky, MD, of the UH Urology Institute Urologic Oncology Center. MedWish repurposes medical supplies and equipment discarded by the health care industry to provide humanitarian aid in developing countries while reducing waste. UH Geauga Medical Center is one of several Northeast Ohio health care facilities that participates in the organization’s Recover, Recycle, Redistribute program. MedWish has helped more than 90 countries during the last 20 years.

UH Geauga Medical Center staff members joined the MedWish “brigade” to El Salvador in 2012, and were eager to embark on the 2013 brigade to Guatemala, August 5 – 9. “We brought 1,500 pounds of medical supplies and equipment to a remote municipality in the mountains called Purulhá,” says Dr. Zimmerman, EMS Director, UH Geauga Medical Center. “We brought gloves, bandages, antibiotics, pain medication, creams for rashes, splints for injuries – everyone brought a 50-pound duffel bag of supplies and we saw 1,500 people in three days at three different, very remote locations.”

The team from UH Geauga Medical Center examined the native Guatemalans and gave them appropriate vitamins and medicines, including 30,000 doses of anti-parasite medication that they purchased and provided to the patients and their families. “These people live with parasites and malnutrition, and they lack access to pharmaceuticals so basic treatments for high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and cardiac issues are non-existent,” says Dr. Failinger, Division Chief of Pediatrics, UH Geauga Medical Center.

Hundreds of Guatemalan people walked two hours or more in the extreme heat because they knew the American doctors had arrived. “Many of them had never seen a doctor before,” says Dr. Failinger. “They were excited that we were there to help them, but they were also very protective of their children. Their sense of community and family is incredible. These people gave me far more than I gave to them.”

The UH Geauga Medical Center MedWish participants are already looking forward to next year’s brigade to another part of the world that will be determined in 2014. “It really makes you appreciate what we have and what we often take for granted, like clean water, basic food and even the simplest forms of transportation,” says Dr. Zimmerman. “The MedWish brigade gives you an appreciation of how your difficult day at work compares to what people in a country like Guatemala experience every day as a way of life.”

To learn more about MedWish International and its connection to University Hospitals, visit www.medwish.org/who-we-are/founder.

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