One Doctor

A couple of weeks ago, my sister, Patrice, who works in the drama and dance department at Stanford University, sent me a series of articles about Stanford physician Paul Wise, who has been going to rural Guatemala for the past thirty years to deliver healthcare to families in dire need, ever since he first visited in 1970 and “fell in love with the place and its people.” On his most recent trip this summer, Dr. Wise was accompanied by a team of Stanford medical students and undergraduates. The articles were written by Adam Gorlick, a Stanford News Service writer.

The group’s work was centered in the area surrounding San Lucas Tolimán, on the southeastern shore of Lake Atitlán. (Tolimán is the name of the volcano that sits on the edge of town.) Gorlick began the series by describing the havoc wreaked on San Lucas by torrential rainfall, including Tropical Storm Agatha in late May. The description rings all-too-familiar to anyone who has traveled in-country during rainy season, when flood waters create landslides, destroy homes, and render roads nearly impassable. Gorlick went on to note the poverty endemic in a country “wracked by decades of civil war, political corruption and the violence of a growing drug trade.” The majority of  residents in San Lucas are farm workers who earn less than $1,000 U.S. per year.

All day long, locals streamed in with their children to see Dr. Wise in  his makeshift health clinic. Gorlick wrote: “Most of the children are suffering from easily preventable problems and sicknesses. Diarrhea. Worms. Scabies.”

The challenges of delivering healthcare in any country, including our own, can be daunting to the point of being overwhelming. As Dr. Wise said, “It takes the students about three minutes to figure out that the health problems we’re seeing are diseases of poverty.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Wise and others like him return to Guatemala again and again to do what they can to help. Not because they believe they can “solve” or “fix” the system, and not because they believe they can “rescue” anyone. They do it because they believe helping even one person in a small way can make a difference in that person’s life, and maybe in the future of his or her family. To that end, Dr. Wise has worked with others to train promotores, thirty local villagers who monitor patients and jot down notes for their next doctor visit. Dr. Wise obviously realizes that no lasting change can occur without the support of local communities.

Like many adoptive parents of children born in Guatemala, I feel a deep attachment to the country. When I read about people like Dr. Wise and his dedication, I want to share the good news. Bravo to Stanford University for calling attention to Guatemala and its ongoing challenges.

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4 Responses to “One Doctor”

  1. cynthia rovero says:

    dr wise and his team are doing a remarkable service to the guatemalan people in need. thank you for sharing the good news.

  2. Jessica says:

    so many good people in the world doing their best. thanks for reading, cynthia.

  3. Jessie Kilpatrick says:

    Paul is my uncle! I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to see that he’s appreciated and to let you know that he really, really loves what he does there. It’s his second home.

  4. Jessica says:

    Jessie,
    How proud you must be of your Uncle Paul! He and his dedication, leadership, and service are indeed appreciated, by me and countless others.
    Thanks for writing!

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