LIMA — For three Lima Central Catholic seniors, they will never forget the faces of the children they spent a week with in Antigua, Guatemala.
Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Patterson and 18-year-olds Elizabeth Kidd and Elizabeth Kahle traveled to the Central American country to assist a group of physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, physical therapists and volunteers who volunteered to help at a hospital through Operation Walk.
While U.S. surgeons performed operations, the girls spent time caring for infants in the nursery and the children’s wards. The moments they shared with the children, they said, left an indelible mark on their soul.
“It meant seeing a whole new world, a whole new way of life and the best part of connecting with the kids with disabilities,” Kahle said. “We were able to give them a light in this world that they normally do not have.
“When we would hold the little babies in the nursery and we would put them back down in their crib they would cry,” the daughter of Martha and Dave Kahle said. “It was so hard and so sad to say goodbye to them.”
Kidd said they could not always communicate, but their message was clear, as a smile was a sign of happiness and a frown meant they were sad.
“Whenever we got there, it was so nice to see their faces light up,” Kidd said, “but, of course, when we left they were sad.
“Those kids finally felt the warmth and nurturing they should have had from their mothers and fathers,” the daughter of Kathy and Kevin Kidd said, “but that is what they felt with us.”
Rebecca said they left before a couple of friends from a different group and they texted them telling the girls that the children were asking where they were and cried when they learned they had left to go back home.
One day during their stay they took the children to the park and the girls were amazed at how much fun the children had hearing the dogs bark, seeing a horse for the first time and actually spending time out in the sun instead of seeing only hospital lights. They also touched the plants.
“It was really neat to see how excited they got over the littlest of things,” Rebecca said.
The girls said parents typically leave the babies at the hospital if they have physical problems and then they just move infants up to the children’s ward and then they get separated into the women’s and men’s wards.
The three young women went down as members of a relatively new organization called Operation Walk, which has chapters in the United States and Canada. Operation Walk is a private, not-for-profit organization that provides free surgical treatment for patients in developing countries that have no access to life-improving care for arthritis or other debilitating bone and joint conditions. Dr. Lawrence Dorr, of Los Angeles, began the organization in 1995.
“My dad has been involved with this for seven years now and he got involved in it when we lived in London, Ontario, Canada, and he met the two doctors who started this there,” Rebecca said, referring to her father Dr. Jim Patterson. “My dad was responsible for getting the Ohio team put together and for us to get down there.”
She said they work with a woman named Anna in Guatemala. The teams, which totaled eight students and about 50 people, consisted of groups from London, Ontario; Prescott, Ariz.; and Lima. They left early on Nov. 2 and returned late on Nov. 8.
While they explain to their classmates, the city has many modern facilities. It is not the same in the highlands surrounding the city, where poverty is much more prevalent.
“We gained a whole new perspective on how lucky we actually are to be able to walk, to speak and to think clearly,” Rebecca said. “I got to sit in on one of the surgeries my dad performed and he did not have time to talk to anybody. He went straight from surgery to surgery.”
“We are lucky to have the medicines and all the doctors that we do in the United States,” Kidd said. “They performed 60 surgeries during the week while we were there and that is one-third of what happens in all of Guatemala in an entire year. It is amazing.”
On Thursday, the three young women, who have been friends since attending St. Charles Catholic School, addressed the Lima Central Catholic student body after a Mass and spoke about their time in the developing country. Their speech included a slideshow presentation of photos of their stay at the hospital, with the song, “Only Hope,” sung by Mandy Moore.
Rebecca quickly pointed out the time in Guatemala was one of the most hectic weeks in their lives, “it was really worth it. I am just going to miss the entire group of kids so much. I miss them all the time.”
Kahle echoed the sentiment and then concluded, “We are blessed for living here, but we are really blessed for having the chance to help there.”