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Service to Others: TJ Mulrenin’s Medical Mission Trip to the Highlands of Guatemala

On February 2, 2019, TJ Mulrenin embarked on his sixth trip to Guatemala with HELPS International, a nonprofit working across Guatemala to break the cycle of poverty with sustainable solutions in agriculture, community development, education and health care. The team of approximately one hundred volunteers from the United States consisted of doctors, nurses and health professionals to provide general and gynecological surgery, surgery for cleft lip and strabismus in kids. In addition, non-medical volunteers, such as TJ, were actively involved in installing cooking stoves and water purification units in homes to promote healthy living.

TJ had the pleasure of going on this trip with his friend, Dr. John Avallone, a pediatric ophthalmologist and the head of ophthalmology at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Dr. Avallone has made more than twenty trips to Guatemala.

This year, in five days, the HELPS surgical teams performed 136 general surgeries including hernia repair, gall bladder removal and OB/GYN procedures. Dr. Avallone and his eye team performed an additional forty-seven surgeries consisting mainly of correcting strabismus (crossed eyes) in children. The surgeons corrected disfiguring defects and eliminated debilitating pain with modern medicine to which these indigenous Guatemalans would not otherwise have access. Some of these patients travelled for more than fifteen hours for these medical services.

While the doctors and nurses were performing their medical services, TJ’s role was to lead three teams into the mountains (upwards of 10,000 feet in altitude) to install stoves with chimneys. Traditionally, these Guatemalan people cook and heat their homes with unventilated wood fires. The stoves with chimneys are seventy percent more efficient than a fireplace and eliminate the hazards of smoke and open fire in the home. The team also installed water purifiers with a ceramic filter to provide safe water for a year. Going forward, the villagers can obtain a replacement filter from their local government. During this one week, TJ and his team installed stoves and water purifiers in forty homes and in one school.

The smiles on the faces of the household when they realize how little wood was necessary to cook on their new stoves were unforgettable. Similarly, the gratitude of the families whose children were treated by Dr. Avallone’s team was overwhelming. Their children were transformed from objects of ridicule to beautiful young people. Below are some before and after photos.

The Guatemalan people are kind, stoic, grateful and lovely. Bringing modern medicine and safe efficient stoves and water purifiers to them is a life changing experience for them and us. If anyone is interested in joining TJ’s “stove team” or helping in the field hospital, TJ would welcome your participation. It will be a life changing experience. Please contact TJ Mulrenin at [email protected] or 410-573-2480, and to see additional photos and videos please click here.

Dr. Avallone with a toddler patient.

Before and after corrective surgery.